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Hillary acquitted of Potsdam murder by New York judge

Canton, NY

Today Judge Felix Catena acquitted Oral "Nick" Hillary of the murder of Garrett Phillips, 12, in Potsdam, NY. Defense lawyers argued there was no physical or eyewitness evidence. The prosecution failed to introduce DNA evidence, rejected by the judge as unreliable.

This landmark DNA case revealed the inadequacy of New Zealand’s STRmix software. The program gave inconsistent match statistics for the victim’s fingernail. Subjectively choosing some of the data suggested Hillary’s DNA might be on the fingernail, but using all the data showed he wasn’t there.

Cybergenetics examined all 180 DNA evidence items using their TrueAllele® genotyping technology. TrueAllele objectively "unmixes" mixed DNA samples to calculate accurate match statistics. The Pittsburgh-based company worked for over three years without pay on this case, assisting the police, prosecution and defense with DNA evidence. TrueAllele did not connect Hillary with the crime.

"I am so pleased for Nick Hillary and his family," said Dr. Mark Perlin of Cybergenetics. "It was unfortunate that the state pursued this case without physical evidence, proffering nonviable DNA. Fortunately, science triumphed in the end."

The STRmix loss gives a roadmap for keeping unreliable DNA mixture evidence out of the courtroom. Trial lawyers can follow Legal Aid's successful approach when challenging questionable DNA. New York v. Hillary highlights the need for unbiased data interpretation in forensic science.

Dr. Perlin will present this case at the Legal Aid Society conference on "Questioning Forensics" on October 27 in New York City. He will discuss DNA mixture interpretation and how to challenge unreliable genotyping software.


  • Nick Hillary Found Not Guilty in Murder of 12-Year-Old Garrett Phillips - ABC News
  • Ex-college coach acquitted of killing ex's 12-year-old son - Daily Mail
  • Upstate NY man acquitted of murder, in landmark DNA case - Forensic Magazine
  • Oral Nicholas Hillary Acquitted in Potsdam Boy’s Killing - New York Times
  • Ex-Clarkson coach Nick Hillary not guilty in 12-year-old Garrett Phillips' death -
  • Nick Hillary found not guilty in murder trial - Watertown Daily Times
Nick Hillary, AP
Oral "Nick" Hillary. (Photo: Associated Press)
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