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“Documentary Now!,” a television series created by Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers and Rhys Thomas, is, as you might expect, a parody of documentaries that have swept across our television screens like a swarm of locusts. The creators of “Documentary Now!” classify their program as a mockumentary, and, while some episodes are borderline hilarious, they often have a genuine quality about them, which makes me to suspect some viewers may take them seriously.

But this piece isn’t about “Documentary Now!,” which premiered back in August, 2015. This is about a real, 2019 documentary, HBO’s “Who Killed Garrett Phillips?,” a two-part look at the 2010 murder of a 12-year-old boy in Potsdam, New York, and the subsequent arrest and 2016 trial of a man who was deeply involved with the boy’s mother. That man, Oral Nicholas "Nick" Hillary, was a respected soccer coach at Clarkson University, located in Potsdam. He happens to be black.

I don’t know why documentary maker Liz Garbus chose this particular subject, but several reviewers viewed her work as an exposé of how police in a small, overwhelmingly white town made assumptions based on race. One review headline gave the impression police went out to find a black man, any black man, and pin the murder on him.

This simply isn’t true. That isn’t to say there wasn’t an element of racism in this case. But when this overblown two-part, almost four-hour documentary finally gets down to business, it becomes obvious why Hillary was a most likely suspect.

Despite a bias in favor of Hillary, who holds center stage about half of the time, talking a lot, but actually saying very little, it's easy to conclude the question asked by the documentary's title was answered correctly by Potsdam police department. Except they didn't find enough evidence to prove their case. I'm greatly surprised the district attorney was able to get an indictment, much less take Hillary to trial.

There is no suspense on this matter. Hillary opted for a judge-only trial, and was declared not guilty. Many Potsdam residents were angry and frustrated by the judge's verdict, but no one can quarrel with it. My quarrel is with the documentary.

I admit I'm partial to documentaries in which a narrator or on-camera reporter guides us along, separating fact from fiction in the statements made by witnesses to an event. This isn't one of those documentaries. If a participant raises a disturbing or intriguing point, well, that's tough. The question in the viewer's mind remains unasked. Diving into this particular case is a plunge into the great unknown.

As with most such projects these days, this one is much too long. Despite its length, it provides little information about the people at the heart of the case. Everything I learned from the documentary was presented in bits and pieces that, if combined, would take about 30 minutes. You could accomplish the same in much less time by reading a news article about the trial.

The murder victim's mother, described as a very private person, apparently did not cooperate with Ms. Garbus, who chose to give Hillary a forum, which he used to present himself as a soft-spoken, incredibly introspective man almost devoid of emotion, except that he claims to love his children. He has five, I think, including some by the woman he was living with when he became involved with Tandy Cyrus, single mother of two boys, one of whom would be killed many months later. Hillary and Cyrus met at her place of work. She was a bartender where he and his friends did their drinking.

Hillary’s live-in girl friend discovered he was cheating on her, and went ballistic, cutting up his clothing and perhaps keying his car. Someone did it, and she seemed the culprit most likely. This woman was soon out of the picture, so much so that she was not considered a suspect when one of the sons of Hillary’s new girl friend was strangled and suffocated more than a year later.

Motive for the murder was seldom mentioned. This woman certainly didn't have one. If anything, the dead boy was on her side. Trouble is, because we did not hear from Tandy Cyrus, the documentary told us precious little about her sons, which is odd, because the title of this HBO presentation is "Who Killed Garrett Phillips?", not "Getting to Know Nick Hillary."

As he drones on, Hillary tends to downplay his relationship with Tandy Cyrus, though at one point he admits they lived together and traveled to other countries together. (He doesn't elaborate on that last point).

Text messages and other communications are shown that outline the bad feeling that existed between Hillary and Tandy Cyrus’s two sons. Apparently the boys were ostracized by classmates because of their mother's black boy friend. This is the only important racial element to the case — Tandy Cyrus's sons did not like Hillary. She responds by moving out of Hillary’s apartment and into one of her own. However, she continues to see him, and it's indicated Hillary had a key to the woman's new apartment.

The Nick Hillary we see in this documentary does not reveal his feelings toward Tandy Cyrus, so we do not know what kind of relationship he was seeking, whether marriage was ever discussed, or whether he made any effort to win over her sons. This is another huge gap in the documentary.

Shown are a few journalists who criticize Potsdam police for not considering other scenarios leading up to Garrett Phillip's’ death. Among the scenarios offered by one reporter is auto asphyxiation. After all, a bra was found at the scene. Wow! Put this guy on the case!

However, when the considerable fog of the first two hours finally lifts, we understand why police so quickly focused on two suspects — Nick Hillary and the other man in Tandy Cyrus’s life, deputy sheriff John Jones. Police are uncomfortably cozy with Jones, allowing him to sit in with Tandy Cyrus when she is questioned shortly after the murder. It's obvious Jones should be a suspect, and the viewer can stew about the way he was coddled — though an explanation of sorts is offered in part two of the documentary.

At some point, part two resembles a British crime program, because most of the circumstantial evidence, such as it is, comes from CCTV footage, and the effect is almost creepy.

We are shown video tape of what led police to decide on the murderer. That tape, made about a half-hour (or less) before the murder, shows Garrett Phillips skateboarding past Potsdam High School on his way home, a few blocks away. The boy is alone. There are no friends chasing him or tagging along, no one who’d participate in the various scenarios offered by journalists who speculated that perhaps rowdy boys killed young Phillips, either accidentally or on purpose.

Also in this tape is Nick Hillary’s car, moving in a circle through the parking lot, indicating a detour. At first Hillary seems headed for home, then he apparently changed his mind. His new route has him following Garrett Phillips. Hillary's explanation: he decided to visit an assistant coach, which he did about 45 minutes later. The assistant coach lived only a few minutes from the high school. After all, this is a small town.

Another CCTV camera picked up Garrett Phillips a couple of blocks away, going past a Potsdam hospital. In the background you can see the car of deputy sheriff John Jones pull into his driveway, placing him within easy walking distance of the murder scene only minutes before the crime is committed. I believe Hillary’s car also is shown on this video tape, already having passed the boy on a skateboard.

Jones was ruled out as a suspect because the CCTV camera at the hospital showed the deputy sheriff walking his dog at the time the boy is murdered, that time being established by a couple who lived across the hall from Tandy Cyrus and her sons. The couple heard a disturbing noise, knocked on the Cyrus door, and when there was no response, the woman called police.

From the time Garrett Phillips went past the hospital until the neighbor's phone call was a matter of minutes.

The CCTV evidence is interesting, but certainly not enough to indict anyone for the crime. No one saw Hillary at the apartment. Police believe the killer made his escape by jumping out a second-story window. (Much was made of an ankle injury police believe Hillary suffered that day, and whether a later tape made at a soccer game showed him limping. What wasn't mentioned — and may be strictly in my head — is it seemed possible to get from that window to the roof of a first floor entry, and then to the ground. Such an escape route was unlikely to cause an injury.)

More than five years after the murder, the district attorney received controversial DNA evidence from under the boy's fingernails. This evidence implicates Hillary, but the method used to arrive at this conclusion is not accepted in New York State, and Judge Felix Catena said this evidence was inconclusive and he would not allow it to be used.

Hillary, in what I thought was a brilliant move, instructed his team of lawyers to ask for a judge-only trial. They did this the day after jury selection had begun. Potential jurors and those already selected were dismissed.

Long story short, Nick Hillary was found not guilty. He cannot be retried. His lawyers said justice had been served, though if that were true, Hillary wouldn't have lost his coaching job in the process. He will make a second attempt to sue the town of Potsdam for damages.

While Tandy Cyrus makes no statement in the documentary, she did appear on ABC's "20/20" in 2016. Despite the judge's verdict, she maintains Nick Hillary killed her son. Many people feel the same way, and not because the man is black.

While Liz Garbus and most viewers may disagree, I think the HBO documentary supports Tandy Cyrus's opinion. True, the Nick Hillary we see and hear in this presentation seems an unlikely suspect, but he also seems unlikely to have started an affair with a single mother of two while he was living with a woman by whom he had children. Yet we know this is what Nick Hillary did. We should know by now that appearances are often deceiving. A camera is not a lie detector.

Common sense, not color, led police to their primary suspect; I believe frustration and misguided political ambition led St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain to push hard for an indictment. What happened, of course, is Hillary was acquitted and Ms. Rain was disgraced.

While DNA evidence is regarded as the magic bullet in criminal cases, the evidence produced against Nick Hillary was questionable, and Judge Catena acted wisely in throwing it out.

Which gets me back to the documentary. I was reminded of courtroom dramas in which a defense attorney tries to convince a client that it is in his or her best interest not to take the stand. Some accused criminals have too much ego to admit they could well look guilty under cross-examination.

Nick Hillary understandably felt he had to leave Potsdam. Wherever he settled, he was likely to blend in, unnoticed except by those who follow cases from far away, or by those on the word-of-mouth circuit. Now he has been exposed, albeit with a positive spin, on national television. While he presented himself well, the facts in the case, incomplete though they may be, remain disturbing. Did his calm, controlled demeanor outweigh these facts and his rather complicated social life? Will this documentary make his life easier or more difficult?

And while it's a moot point — unless there's a civil trial in the offing — we might consider the possibility the controversial DNA evidence was valid. If so, “Who Killed Garrett Phillips” was nothing more than a makeover for a murderer.

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