On Oct. 24, 2011, 12-year-old Garrett Phillips was murdered in his home in Potsdam, a small town in upstate New York. Police quickly zeroed in on a suspect in this unthinkable crime: Oral “Nick” Hillary, a black man in the mostly white community, who was a soccer coach at Clarkson University and the ex-boyfriend of Garrett’s mother, Tandy Cyrus.
From two-time Academy Award® nominee and Emmy® winner Liz Garbus (HBO’s A Dangerous Son and Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper), the captivating two-part documentary Who Killed Garrett Phillips? looks at the case from the initial investigation through the arrest and numerous legal twists and turns that culminated in Hillary’s trial for murder five years after the crime. The case raises troubling questions of racial bias and issues surrounding policing and the criminal justice system.
Who Killed Garrett Phillips? debuts Tuesday, July 23 and Wednesday, July 24 (8:00 pm ET/PST), exclusively on HBO. The film will also be available on HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO and partners’ streaming platforms.
The engrossing documentary chronicles the five years following the murder, as Garrett’s family and community relentlessly seek justice for Garrett, and as Nick, who maintains his innocence, fights to clear his name and take back control of his life while raising five children. Through interviews with local police investigators, District Attorneys, defense lawyers, Phillips’ family members, friends of Tandy Cyrus as well as Nick Hillary and his children, along with extensive police audio and video recordings, and courtroom footage, Who Killed Garrett Phillips? s a gripping, eye-opening look at how justice is delivered and delayed. The film seeks to uncover the truth behind both the tragic murder of a young boy that traumatized a town, as well as the vilification of a black man who was swept up in a quest for justice, and the enduring mysteries that remain.
Who Killed Garrett Phillips? concludes HBO’s trilogy of two-part crime documentaries on successive Tuesday and Wednesday nights this July. The series kicks off with Erin Lee Carr’s I Love You, Now Die on July 9 and 10, and continues with Behind Closed Doors on July 16 and 17.
On the afternoon of October 24, 2011, 12-year-old Garrett Phillips is found mysteriously strangled in his home in Potsdam, New York. Police quickly zeroed in on a suspect in this unthinkable crime: Oral “Nick” Hillary, the ex-boyfriend of Garrett’s mother Tandy, who was a soccer coach at Clarkson University and a black man in a community that was mostly white. Hoping to put the welfare for their children first, Tandy and Nick had recently separated, feeling pressure for their interracial romance in the small town, and, in the wake of Garret’s death, Tandy finds support from her ex-boyfriend, Sheriff’s Deputy John Jones. Considering few other suspects, Potsdam investigators brought Nick into the station for a traumatic interrogation he would never forget. Premieres July 23.
Six months after Garrett’s murder, the community begins a “Justice for Garrett” campaign as Nick, who has lost his job, tries to move forward with his life and files a civil case against the Potsdam police department. With the new DA Mary Rain making it her mission to put Garrett’s murderer behind bars, Nick is charged with second degree murder based on testimony given during his civil case that seems to contradict parking-lot video surveillance footage. Despite holes in the prosecution’s case, both sides prepare for a bench trial without a jury, as national media attention raises important issues of race and bias in policing. Premieres July 24.
The documentary received its world premiere in June at the 2019 AFI Docs Film Festival.