Josh Phillips (murderer)

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Joshua Earl Patrick Phillips
Joshua Phillips.jpg
Mug shot of Joshua Phillips in 2010
Born (1984-03-17) March 17, 1984 (age 31)
Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.
Criminal penalty Life sentence no parole
Criminal status Incarcerated in Cross City Correctional Institution
Parent(s) Melissa Phillips and Steve Phillips

Joshua Earl Patrick "Josh" Phillips (born March 17, 1984) is an American convicted murderer from Jacksonville, Florida. He was convicted (in July 1999) of murdering an 8-year-old neighbor, Maddie Clifton, in November 1998, when he was 14 years old. He is currently serving a sentence of life in prison without parole.[1] The murder was the subject of national television coverage, including a documentary on 48 Hours titled "Why did Josh Kill?"[2]

The disappearance[edit]

On November 3, 1998, Maddie Clifton disappeared. The first suspect named in the case was neighbor Larry Grisham. Grisham had been arrested twice in the past, both times between 15 and 20 years earlier, in sexual battery cases, but in both incidents, charges were dropped. Grisham failed a lie detector test in relation to Maddie's disappearance, but provided an alibi.[3]

Police called off the search for Maddie, but the community, including over 400 volunteers, persisted. A reward was offered; that was initially $50,000 but it was later doubled.[4] One of the volunteers was Phillips.

The FBI became involved in the case. Flyers were distributed around town, including at a local Jaguars-Bengals game. Television series America's Most Wanted also offered to broadcast the story.[5]

Murder case[edit]

The search ended a week after the disappearance when Phillips's mother Melissa went to clean his room, finding that his waterbed seemed to be "leaking". Upon further examination, she discovered Maddie's body hidden inside the pedestal of Phillips's waterbed. She promptly ran outside her home and went across the street to get the police.[6]

Phillips was arrested that day at his school. He was held in maximum security as he made his first court appearance. It was determined that Clifton's cause of death was from stabbing and clubbing with a baseball bat. Phillips claimed the event happened one afternoon when he was home alone and Maddie came to his house asking him to come outside and play, despite that Josh wasn't allowed people over when his parents weren't home he did so anyway. As the two were playing baseball, when Maddie threw the ball at him and he hit it, the ball struck the 8-year-old's eye, causing her to bleed. The injury caused Maddie to scream. Due to Josh's fear of his father's temper and knowing he would be home soon, he knew he would get in massive trouble and began to panic, he proceeded to drag her into his room and strangle her with a phone cord for approximately 15 minutes. Soon after, he hit her again with the baseball bat and stabbed her 11 times.[7]

Josh was charged with first-degree murder. His trial was held in Polk County due to the massive amount of media coverage. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of ever being freed. Because he was under 16, he was not eligible for the death penalty under Florida's law at the time.[8]

Though Phillips had no history of violence, some of the evidence retrieved during police searches included violent pornography.[9] And while the autopsy did not reveal any sexual assault, Maddie's body was found nude from the waist down.[10]

The murder appears to have been motivated by Phillips's fear of his abusive father, who would have been very angry had he found Madelyn inside their house.[11] Phillips stated on TV program Too Young to Kill: 15 Shocking Crimes that if he could take it back, he would, subsequently breaking down into tears.

Phillips attended Blackstone Career Institute, a distance learning program, graduating with a paralegal degree in 2007. [12] He works as a paralegal helping other inmates with their appeals.

Following the trial, Maddie Clifton's parents, Steve and Sheila Clifton, divorced.[13]

In 2000, Phillips's father, Steve, was killed in a car accident.[14]


In 2002, an appeals court upheld Phillips's conviction.[15] In December 2004, Melissa Phillips began to seek a new trial for her son.[16][17] She felt that his young age at the time of the murder should be taken into account. Two of the officials behind his sentence now have second thoughts.[18]

In 2005, new hearing dates were set for Phillips.[19]

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juveniles to mandatory life without parole is unconstitutional. It is unclear if his attorney will seek re-sentencing.[20]

In November 2015, Phillips's attorneys were possibly using the U.S. Supreme Court ruling as a basis to file a re-sentencing hearing.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Why Did Josh Kill?, When A 'Good' Kid Commits A Brutal Crime". CBS News. 2009-02-11. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  2. ^ "Channels - Maddie Clifton story examined on '48 Hours' 10/07/99". 1999-10-07. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  3. ^ "WJXT - Top Story". 1998-11-06. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  4. ^ "WJXT - Top Story". 1998-11-07. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  5. ^ "WJXT - Top Story". 1998-11-09. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  6. ^ "WJXT - Top Story". 1998-11-10. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  7. ^ "WJXT - Top Story". 1998-11-11. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  8. ^ "State of Florida vs. Joshua Phillips". 1998-11-03. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Boy Grows Up In Prison". Retrieved 2014-09-21. 
  11. ^ "THE MADDIE CLIFTON SAGA: Her killer fights back tears when asked about Maddie and her family". The Florida Times Union. 2008-11-02. Retrieved 2013-06-21. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Caged Kids: Life Sentence, 14-Year-Old Charged As An Adult For Killing His Playmate". CBS News. 2007-12-05. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  14. ^ "Steve Phillips - Father of teen-ager who killed his neighbor dies in automobile wreck", Naples Daily News, 29 June 2000 
  15. ^ Conviction, Sentence Upheld For Maddie's Killer - Jacksonville News Story - WJXT Jacksonville Archived October 21, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "Mother Of Convicted Killer Wants New Trial For Son - Jacksonville News Story - WJXT Jacksonville". Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  17. ^ "New Trial Sought In 1998 Slaying Of Maddie Clifton - Jacksonville News Story - WJXT Jacksonville". Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  18. ^ "THE MADDIE CLIFTON SAGA: Her killer fights back tears when asked about Maddie and her family". The Florida Times Union. 2008-11-02. Retrieved 2013-06-21. 
  19. ^ "Local News | Jacksonville, FL - St. Augustine, FL - Brunswick, GA". 2012-08-08. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  20. ^ "Supreme Court ruling affects child killer's sentence". News4Jax. 25 June 2012. Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  21. ^ "Maddie Clifton’s family worries her killer could be set free". CBS WJAX-TX. Nov 3, 2015. Retrieved 3 November 2015.