Oral Nicholas Hillary, who was acquitted on September 28 of the murder of an ex-girlfriend’s son, is citing a PR firm for its role in taking his story to the press.
Hillary was accused in October 2011 of killing 12-year-old Garrett Phillips in Potsdam, New York, a small town near the Canadian border. Phillips’ mother was Tandy Cyrus, a former girlfriend of Hillary whose relationship with the former Clarkson University soccer coach ended a month prior to Garrett’s death.
Hillary, the only suspect in the case, was detained by the Potsdam Police Department despite a lack of evidence and several alibis accounting for Hillary’s whereabouts during the time of the crime. Hillary later filed a civil suit against the city and its police department as a result of his alleged treatment during the arrest, which is still pending.
Several years went by with no leads or new developments in the case. Then, in 2014, St. Lawrence County district attorney Mary E. Rain, who was elected on a campaign promise to bring Garrett’s murderer to justice, led prosecutorial charges of second-degree murder against Hillary despite a continued lack of forensic evidence. That case eventually went to trial this September in Canton, New York.
Hillary’s civil attorney, Mani Tafari, hired PR firm Goldman McCormick last year to kick off a media relations campaign to raise public awareness of Hillary's plight. Goldman McCormick, which was founded in 2010, specializes in legal PR, and lists authors, celebrities, political strategists, legal experts and financial planners as clients. The Massapequa, NY-based agency launched a website, www.truthfornickhillary.com, which it billed as an “online newsroom” that offered facts and updates on the case.
“The purpose of the site was to lay out the facts,” Goldman McCormick co-founder Ryan McCormick told O’Dwyer’s. “We had nine or 10 pages of detailed information to give the press, but when you offer the media a pitch, you need to keep it short and simple. So we put the site together so the media could have a point of reference and we could highlight what was happening in the case.”
Goldman McCormick also provided Hillary with media training services, and coordinated interviews with newspapers, TV stations and radio shows to share his side of the story. A March New York Times article brought national attention to the case, and two high profile New York City attorneys, Norman Siegel and Earl S. Ward, later signed onto Hillary’s defense team.
The trial lasted only two weeks, and Hillary’s September 28 acquittal made headlines nationwide. NBC’s “Dateline” and ABC’s “20/20” both ran features on the trial.
“It’s incredible how powerful the media can be when attorneys share their case,” McCormick told O’Dwyer’s. “Nick was exonerated because of what happened in court, but when the media sees something they want to take action, and they brought a lot more attention to this case and offered a counterbalance in a public forum that highlighted some of the wrongs and helped Nick’s case build momentum.”
In a September 28 statement, Hillary said “This morning I stood at the precipice of either spending the next fifteen years-to-life in prison or finally going home to my family. Goldman McCormick PR is a big reason why I’m going home to my family.”
“It was beyond PR,” McCormick said. “[The prosecution] was going to convict [Hillary] on circumstantial evidence, without a shred of evidence or a single eye witness, and there are people in very similar situations to him today who end up spending their entire lives in prison. We really wanted to help this gentleman who was in a bad position, and it was a great honor to work on this case.”