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Morbidology the Podcast – 22: Garrett Phillips

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Potsdam is a small college town in New York of around 9,400 residents. It is located around 20 miles from the Canadian border and has an active downtown strip from the 1950s which morphs into the usually combination of strip malls and chain stores. It is predominantly white. In 2010, it was almost 90% white and less than 3% black.

On the 24th of October, 2011, a young boy lay dead on his apartment floor as Potsdam village police embarked on an investigation into his slaying. But did that investigation focus solely on one man before other avenues of investigation were adequately pursed?

Long before fingerprints or DNA had even been analysed, Potsdam Village Police zoned in on one man in particular and with an overzealous prosecutor forsaking justice in the name of keeping her campaign promise, tunnel vision took over.

Tunnel vision can set in when a horrific crime takes place and there is tremendous public pressure to find the killer. People can often be hard-wired to find support for their conclusions even when this support does not exist and ignore information that challenges their conclusion. The presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of justice and when tunnel vision takes over, the wheels of justice move even slower.

The case of Garrett Philips had the elements of a classic whodunit, and according to who you ask, it also had the elements of a race-based prosecution.

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Daily Courier-Observer, 26 October, 2011 – “Clues Sough in Potsdam Boy’s Death”

North County Now, 26 October, 2011 – “Community Waits for Answers in Death of Potsdam Boy”

Daily Courier-Observer, 27 October, 2011 – “Many Messages Left for Garrett”

Watertown Daily News, 27 October, 2011 – “Garrett Phillips”

Daily Courier-Observer, 28 October, 2011 – “CU Coach Claims Unfair Treatment”

Watertown Daily Times, 29 October, 2011 – “Boy’s Death is Ruled a Homicide”

North Country Now, 31 October, 2011 – “Seeking Leads, Police Stop Traffic in Front of Potsdam Apartment Where 12-Year-Old Was Murdered”

North Country Now, 28 November, 2011 – “Why No News on Murder?

North County Now, 30 March, 2012 – “Leave Police Alone”

North County Now, 3 April, 2012 – “Clarkson Coach Questioned in Potsdam Boy’s Murder Threatens Village with Lawsuit”

Daily Courier-Observer, 12 May, 2012 – “Garrett’s Family Searching”

St. Lawrence Plaindealer, 26 June, 2012 – “Garrett Phillips Reward Fund Surpasses $10,000”

North Country Now, 21 August, 2012 – “Garrett Phillips Reward Fund Motorcycle Ride Saturday From Parishville Firemen’s Field”

North Country Now, 23 October, 2012 – “Potsdam Middle School Hosts Memorial Concert for Garrett Phillips”

The Journal, 24 October, 2012 – “Phillips”

North Country This Week, 25 September, 2013 – “District Attorney Candidate Bashes Incumbent”

Watertown Daily Times, 8 October, 2013 – “Duve, Rain Square Off at Event in Wanakena”

North Country This Week, 23 October, 2013 – “Candidates Debate Pleas, Murders, Experience”

Daily Courier-Observer, 25 October, 2013 – “Garrett”

Daily Courier-Observer, 29 October, 2013 – “Slain Boy’s Mom Upset With Duve After Visit”

Watertown Daily Times, 4 February, 2014 – “Man Suing Potsdam Seeks Limit on Police”

Daily Courier-Observer, 16 January, 2014 – “Attorney to Hillary: Drop It”

Watertown Daily Times, 9 May, 2014 – “Grand Jury Set in Boy’s Murder”

Associates Press State Wire, 16 May, 2014 – “Soccer Coach Charged in 12-Year-Old Boy’s Slaying”

Watertown Daily Times, 17 May, 2014 – “Bail Set in Hillary Arrest $75K Cash or $150K Bond”

Daily Courier-Observer, 21 May, 2014 – “Hillary’s Attorney Renewing Motion to Block Documents”

North Country This Week, 4 June, 2014 – “Petition Aims to Keep Hillary in Jail”

North Country Now, 25 July, 2014 – “Hillary’s $150,000 Bond Accepted”

Watertown Daily Times, 26 September, 2014 – “Hillary Gets New Lawyers”

Watertown Daily Times, 10 October, 2014 – “Hillary Asserts an Alibi Phillips Murder”

Associated Press State Wire, 16 October, 2014 – “Murder Charge Against Ex-Soccer Coach Dismissed”

North Country Now, 16 October, 2014 – “D.A. Deeply Troubled by Dismissal of Murder Indictment Against Potsdam Man”

Watertown Daily Times, 14 February, 2015 – “Hillary Team Seeks Video to Check Deputy’s Story”

Watertown Daily Times, 5 March, 2015 – “Stories Clash in Murder Case”

The Daily Gazette, 6 March, 2016 – “Questions of Race in the Case of Slain Potsdam Boy”

Oswego News, 19 August, 2016 – “Did the Police Rush to Judgement in the Murder of Garrett Phillips?”

The Times Union, 11 September, 2016 – “Child’s Murder Grips Upstate”

Associated Press State Wire, 12 September, 2016 – “Video Shows Ex-Coach Stalkign Boy Who Was Slain”

North Country Now, 12 September, 2016 – “Mother, Grandmother of Murdered 12-Year-Old Potsdam Boy Take the Stand in Hillary Trial”

WFIN – 1330 AM, 12 September, 2016 – “Nick Hillary Murder Trial”

Daily Courier-Observer, 20 September, 2016 – “Deputy Denies Killing Boy”

North Country NOW, 20 September, 2016 – “Defense Starts to Make its Case in Potsdam Murder Trial”

Associated Press State Wire, 22  September, 2016 – “Prosecutors Demonized Coach Accused of Killing Boy”

Daily Courier-Observer, 2 March, 2017 – “Garrett Phillips Fund Shut”

NNY360, 5 March, 2019 – “Several Hillary Claims Tossed”

Audio Sources:

“Who Killed Garrett Phillips?”

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SusanMacy DrakeNorma Recent comment authors
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I love your voice and accent. I think Hillary was innocent and penalized for being a black man.

Macy Drake
Macy Drake

Hard to believe a case from my home town is on here. I didn’t personally know Garrett, but I knew people who knew him. I was 16 at the time of his murder and it really shook the whole north country. I know a lot of us weren’t allowed to be home alone for a long time after this happened, even when they supposedly caught the killer. Even to this day, when travelling around Potsdam, you can still find “Justice for Garrett” signs in yards and such. People are very divided about if Hillary is innocent or not but people are a lot less likely to get angry and go on a rant about Hillary needing to be murdered now as they used to be.


I remember when this happened too. I was living nearby. It never made big news really anywhere other than our area, at least I hadn’t noticed it did. As Macy said and the podcast said we were all so conflicted. Some even still are. I have my personal theory but will leave it at that.

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