Nick Hillary's Daughter Says Race Was 'Definitely' a Factor in Garrett Phillips Murder Case

Shanna spoke to ABC News ahead of the verdict in the controversial trial.

ByABC News
September 29, 2016, 3:50 PM

— -- Nick Hillary, one of the small number of black men in the small upstate New York village of Potsdam, was found not guilty Wednesday morning in the murder of his white ex-girlfriend's 12-year-old son. While Hillary is now a free man, to his eldest child, 19-year-old Shanna, race "definitely [did] play a factor" in the murder accusation that turned Hillary's life upside-down.

The village of Potsdam was nearly 90 percent white and less than 3 percent black in 2010 -- the year before 12-year-old Garrett Phillips' murder in October 2011.

"For anyone to say, 'Oh, if, you know, even if your dad was white, they would have questioned him' -- I don't think they would have gotten as far as it was, like, if he was white," she said. "Doesn't matter where you are, with everything going on, race is always a factor."

But Shanna, who describes her father as loving, caring and easygoing, told ABC News' "20/20" during the trial that Hillary is "a really strong person," adding that she's "leaning on him more than him leaning on me" during the trial.

PHOTO: Nick Hillary is seen here at the St. Lawrence County Courthouse in Canton, New York.
Nick Hillary is seen here at the St. Lawrence County Courthouse in Canton, New York.

"He doesn't really, like, burden anything on me," she said, "but from what I can see from the outside, he's still strong, so doesn't matter what they throw at him, he's going to come out on top."

It was late 2010 when Hillary and Garrett's mother, Tandy Cyrus, became a couple, and when they moved in together, Shanna moved in with them, too. Altogether, it was a household of five, including Cyrus' children, then-fifth-grader Garrett and his younger brother Aaron.

Shanna called her relationship with her father's then-girlfriend "strained at best."

"This situation wasn't like, 'Hi, this is so and so. Nice to meet you,' it was more like, 'OK, I have to meet you,'" she said. "Did we have, like, girl nights where we were up all night watching movies and eating popcorn and doing our nails? No.

PHOTO: Shanna Hillary, Nick Hillary's daughter, waits outside the St. Lawrence County courthouse on Sept. 20, 2016.
Shanna Hillary, Nick Hillary's daughter, waits outside the St. Lawrence County courthouse on Sept. 20, 2016.

"I think it was a mutual thing," she continued. "I didn't necessarily participate in the whole family gathering type of stuff."

And of adapting to living with two energetic young boys, Shanna said, "It was like, 'Oh, meet your new siblings,' and now you have to get to know them and, like, not step on each other's toes and, like, figure out how to coexist in the same place."

Garrett "definitely had a lot of energy," Shanna said. "He was always on the go."

Hillary and Cyrus broke up in the summer of 2011, and soon after, they stopped living together.

"I was happy that my dad and I lived in our own place together 'cause it gave me a lot more freedom to just relax," Shanna said. "It was like I don't have someone breathing down my neck all the time."

Garrett, his mother and his younger brother had been in their new apartment for just a few months when Garrett was murdered on Oct. 24, 2011. Two days later, Hillary was taken in for questioning. He was not arrested.

But for Shanna, the suspicion that plagued her father gave her a "very short window at the time to be sad" over Garrett's death, she said.

"When it first happened, I was sad, I was really sad about it 'cause I've known him for about a year ... but I didn't get to be sad for long," she said. "When I think of his passing away, instead of ... trying to remember good times, everything in my face now is them trying to hunt my dad down for it."

To Shanna, the investigation into Hillary felt like "they picked what they wanted to happen and they tried to find ways to make it fit, even though that's not what happened."

Shanna, now a junior studying biology at Clarkson University, where Hillary used to coach soccer, took time off from school to come to court as her dad's alibi witness. She told ABC News she's "eager for the whole ordeal to be over."

"It's been going on for so long, and every time you think that you're done, something else comes up," she said. "I'm ready to, like, move on. ... It's in every part of my life. So, when I'm supposed to be enjoying myself in college, I have all of this other stuff behind me, worrying."

Follow along with ABC News' coverage of the Nick Hillary trial and verdict here:

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