Group calls for special prosecutor in Phillips murder case

Updated: Jul. 21, 2020 at 1:20 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - A justice reform group wants a special prosecutor appointed in the Garrett Phillips murder case. The almost 9-year-old case has never been solved.

The case gripped the north country and made national news. A 12-year-old boy was murdered. A black college soccer coach, Oral “Nick” Hillary, was put on trial and found not guilty.

And then...

“The DA’s office pretty much swept this case under the rug,” said Bill Bastuk, executive director of It Could Happen to You, a justic reform group.

It Could Happen to You is calling for a special prosecutor in the case. The group points out one of the DA’s investigators is a defendant in a lawsuit by Hillary. He was Potsdam’s police chief when the crime occurred there.

“In a matter as important as the murder of a 12-year-old boy, it’s extremely important to avoid even the appearance of impropriety,” said Bastuk.

In 2018, newly elected St. Lawrence County District Attorney Gary Pasqua said the investigation was still open and all evidence would be reviewed. But since then, nothing new has been found.

“St. Lawrence community deserves to know that no stone has been unturned,” said Bastuk.

Pasqua told 7 News Tuesday he had no comment on the group’s call for a special prosecutor and that included any specifics dealing with his office.

The failed prosecution of Nick Hillary had a statewide impact. The state legislature passed a bill to create a commission to oversee prosecutors’ conduct.

Bill backers cite then-prosecutor Mary Rain as a reason why the bill is needed. In 2018, her law license was suspended for two years in part because of her ethical lapses in the Hillary case.

“There have been too many reports where prosecutors have abandoned their responsibility and oath,” said Nick Perry, state Assembly assistant speaker pro tempore.

The previous bill to form a commission was overturned by the courts. Perry is now optimistic a revised bill could win legislative approval in both houses this week.

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