Josh Phillips (murderer)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Joshua Phillips
Joshua Phillips.jpg
Mug shot of Joshua Phillips in 2010
Born Joshua Earl Patrick Phillips
(1984-03-17) March 17, 1984 (age 34)
Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.
Nationality American
Other names Josh
Citizenship American
Education Blackstone Career Institute
Criminal penalty Life imprisonment (Eligible for sentence review in 2023)
Criminal status Incarcerated in Cross City Correctional Institution
Parent(s) Melissa Phillips and Steve Phillips
Motive To end the victim's crying and avoid the harassment from father
Conviction(s) Murder
Victims Maddie Clifton
Date November 3, 1998
Location(s) Jacksonville, Florida
Weapons Baseball bat
Date apprehended
November 10, 1998
Imprisoned at Cross City Correctional Institution

Joshua Earl Patrick 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]

Early life[edit]

Phillips was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on March 17, 1984. Josh's father, Steve Phillips, a 6 ft 6 in (198 cm) man, dominated his wife and son and had a violent temper. In Too Young to Kill: 15 Shocking Crimes, Josh recalls that at one point in his life, he walked into his parents’ room to see his father's fist smashed through a wall, which made him terrified of his father. Steve gave his son strict rules and was a drug addict and alcoholic.

The disappearance[edit]

On November 3, 1998, around 5:00pm, 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, initially $50,000 but 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' mother Melissa went to clean his room and found that his waterbed seemed to be "leaking". Upon further examination, she discovered Maddie's body hidden inside the base of the 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 due to stabbing and clubbing with a baseball bat. Phillips claimed the event happened one afternoon when he was home alone, that Maddie came to his house asking him to come outside and play baseball, and that Phillips agreed even though he was not allowed to have friends over while his parents were not home. As the two were playing baseball, Maddie threw the ball at him and he hit it, which caused the ball to strike the 8-year-old's eye, causing her to bleed, leading Clifton to cry and scream. Phillips panicked, fearing the reaction that his father would give when he got home and saw the aftermath. Phillips proceeded to drag Clifton into his home and then 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 stashed her under his bed. Not long after Josh's father entered the house, Phillips went to interact with his father for a short moment and then went back to his room and found that Clifton was still alive moaning under his bed. He then removed the mattress and stabbed her 11 times, killing the 8-year-old.[7]

Phillips 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 parole. Because he was under 16, he was not eligible for the death penalty under Florida's law at the time.[8]

While the autopsy did not reveal any sexual assault, Maddie's body was found nude from the waist down.[9]

The murder appears to have been motivated by Phillips' fear of his abusive and alcoholic father, who would have been very angry had he found Maddie inside their house.[10] Phillips stated on the TV program Too Young to Kill: 15 Shocking Crimes that if he could take it back, he would, subsequently breaking down into tears.[11]

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.[10]

Sometime after the trial, Maddie Clifton's parents, Steve and Sheila Clifton, divorced after 25 years of marriage.[13]

In 2000, Phillips' 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, noting that his young age at the time of the murder should have carried more weight in his sentence.[16][17]

In 2005, new hearing dates were set for Phillips.[18]

In 2008, two of the officials behind his sentence, States Attorney Harry Shorstein and Sheriff Nat Glover, confirmed their belief that Phillips deserved a jail sentence, but admitted having second thoughts about the no-parole life sentence for the 14 year old.[10]

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juveniles to mandatory life without parole is unconstitutional. It was unclear at that time if Phillips' attorney would seek re-sentencing.[19]

In November 2015, Phillips' attorneys were considering the Supreme Court ruling as a basis to file a re-sentencing hearing.[20]

In September 2016, after Phillips' attorneys successfully appealed the court, he was granted a new sentencing hearing as a result of retroactive application of the Supreme Court's ruling which declared his current sentence, mandatory life in prison without parole, unconstitutional for juvenile offenders. A resentencing date was set for February 2017. [21]

In February 2017 Phillips's lawyer asked for more time to prepare[22] and subsequently a new sentencing hearing was set for June 2017.[23] At the June hearing, the victim's mother requested that his sentence be upheld. On November 17, 2017, Phillips was re-sentenced to life in prison.[24]

In the media[edit]

The murder of Maddie Clifton was featured on the Season 2 premiere of Killer Kids.

Phillips was interviewed by British journalist Susanna Reid for the ITV documentary Children Who Kill.[25][26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Staff (2009-02-11). "Why Did Josh Kill?, When A 'Good' Kid Commits A Brutal Crime". CBS News. Retrieved 2016-02-10. 
  2. ^ Charlie Patton (1999-10-07). "Maddie Clifton story examined on '48 Hours'". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved 2016-02-10. 
  3. ^ Staff at WJXT (1998-11-06). "Lakewood 8-year-old missing; last seen Tuesday in her yard". (archivist). WJXT Retrieved 2016-02-10. 
  4. ^ Staff at WJXT and Associated Press (1998-11-07). "After three days, girl still missing; reward doubled". (archivist). WJXT Retrieved 2016-02-10. 
  5. ^ Staff at WJXT and Associated Press (1998-11-09). "Search for missing 8-year-old girl intensifies; FBI to get involved". (archivist). WJXT Retrieved 2016-02-10. 
  6. ^ Staff at WJXT and Associated Press (1998-11-10). "Body of missing 8-year-old found in boy's bedroom across street". (archivist). WJXT Retrieved 2016-02-10. 
  7. ^ Staff at WJXT and Ron Word at Associated Press (1998-11-11). "14-year-old neighbor charged with murder in stabbing of Maddie Clifford". (archivist). WJXT Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  8. ^ Staff at WJXT and Associated Press (1998-11-03). "Jury finds Phillips guilty of first-degree murder". (archivist). WJXT Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  9. ^ Staff at WJXT (2008-10-30). "Boy Grows Up In Prison After Killing Young Neighbor". WJXT Retrieved 2016-02-10. 
  10. ^ a b c Paul Pinkham (2008-11-02). "THE MADDIE CLIFTON SAGA: Her killer fights back tears when asked about Maddie and her family". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved 2016-02-10. 
  11. ^ "Too Young to Kill: 15 Shocking Crimes". E! Entertainment Television. 10 January 2010. Retrieved 24 October 2017. 
  12. ^ Archived from the original on December 21, 2013. Retrieved February 23, 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ Rebecca Leung (2007-12-05). "Caged Kids: Life Sentence, 14-Year-Old Charged As An Adult For Killing His Playmate". CBS News. Retrieved 2016-02-10. 
  14. ^ Jim Schoettler and Kathleen Sweeney (2000-06-28). "Josh Phillips' father killed in wreck". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved 2016-02-10. 
  15. ^ Conviction, Sentence Upheld For Maddie's Killer Archived October 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ "Mother Of Convicted Killer Wants New Trial For Son". WJXT Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  17. ^ "New Trial Sought In 1998 Slaying Of Maddie Clifton". WJXT Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  18. ^ "Local News | Jacksonville, FL - St. Augustine, FL - Brunswick, GA". WTLV First Coast News. 2012-08-08. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  19. ^ Staff writers at WJXT and Associated Press (2012-06-25). "Supreme Court ruling affects child killer's sentence". WJXT Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  20. ^ Samantha Manning (2015-11-03). "Maddie Clifton's family worries her killer could be set free". WJAX-TV. Retrieved 2016-02-10. 
  21. ^ Staff (2016-09-07). "Maddie Clifton's killer to be resentenced in February". WJAX-TV. 
  22. ^ Staff (2017-01-17). "Resentencing of inmate convicted of murder at 14 delayed". WJAX-TV. 
  23. ^ Eileen Kelly (2017-03-15). "Joshua Phillips due for new sentencing hearing in June for Maddie Clifton case". The Florida Times Union. 
  24. ^ Chris Parenteau (2017-08-11). "After 4-day hearing, Josh Phillips returning to prison". News4Jax. 
  25. ^ Children Who Kill - Thursday 15 Feb 9pm
  26. ^ Children Who Kill: Susanna Reid meets notorious US criminal Joshua Phillips