(NEW YORK) — Former college soccer coach Oral “Nick” Hillary was found not guilty Wednesday in the murder of Garrett Phillips, the 12-year-old son of his ex-girlfriend.
The decision was made by Judge Felix Catena. Hillary waived his right to a jury trial and requested a bench trial.
Garrett’s younger brother, Aaron Collins, burst into tears after the judge announced his decision, and Garrett’s mother, Tandy Cyrus, cried softly. Hillary embraced his attorneys and left the courtroom shortly after the decision was announced.
First responders took two stretchers to the courthouse after the verdict to assist distressed family members, including Garrett’s cousin Kayla Phillips, who is believed to be one of the last people who saw him alive. Kayla, who appeared distraught, was then escorted down the courthouse steps and to a waiting car.
Garrett had just begun the sixth grade when he was found unresponsive in his Potsdam home in October 2011. Cyrus had dated Hillary for about one year, and the two broke up months before Garrett’s death.
Hillary was arrested several years after Garrett’s death, and the case went to trial this September in Canton, New York, a town about 10 miles from Potsdam.
Hillary told ABC News’ Elizabeth Vargas earlier this year, before the trial began, that he’s innocent.
“I have absolutely nothing to do with what has happened to Garrett,” Hillary said. “Why would I even want to hurt a child, after having worked with kids for over two decades? It just blows my mind.”
Hillary, a father of five, was smiling and laughing with his lawyers before the verdict was read. Afterward, he cried tears of happiness.
As he prepared for trial, Hillary told Vargas earlier this year that he tried to keep his children “in as much as a normal setting, but obviously it’s impossible.”
“The one good thing to always hear [was my teenage daughter] Shanna come home and say, ‘You know, Dad, you know, all my friends who know who you are, who have been to the house, who have interacted with you, they are very supportive of you.'”
Hillary said he had to sit down with his children “and let them know, ‘Look, your dad has absolutely nothing to do with the death of Garrett Phillips’ … My kids look back at me and [say], ‘Dad, we know that’s not who you are.'”
This story is developing. Check back for updates.
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