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 32)
Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.
Criminal penalty Life imprisonment with no possibility of parole (Overturned)
Criminal status Incarcerated in Cross City Correctional Institution
Parent(s) Melissa Phillips and Steve Phillips
Conviction(s) Murder

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' 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' 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. As the two were playing baseball, Maddie threw the ball at him and he hit it. The ball struck the 8-year-old's eye, causing her to bleed. Phillips claimed that he panicked, fearing what his father would do when he got home, and 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]

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's fear of his abusive father, who would have been very angry had he found Madelyn inside their house.[10] 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. [11] 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.[12]

In 2000, Phillips' father, Steve, was killed in a car accident.[13]


In 2002, an appeals court upheld Phillips' conviction.[14] 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.[15][16]

In 2005, new hearing dates were set for Phillips.[17]

In 2008, two of the officials behind his sentence – States Attorney Harry Shorstein and Sheriff Nat Glover – confirmed their belief that Phillips deserved jail time, 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.[18]

In November 2015, Phillips' attorneys were considering the Supreme Court ruling as a basis to file a re-sentencing hearing.[19]

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. [20]

In the media[edit]

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

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. ^'s%20paralegal%20diploma.jpg. Archived from the original on December 21, 2013. Retrieved February 23, 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ Jim Schoettler and Kathleen Sweeney (2000-06-28). "Josh Phillips' father killed in wreck". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved 2016-02-10. 
  14. ^ Conviction, Sentence Upheld For Maddie's Killer Archived October 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ "Mother Of Convicted Killer Wants New Trial For Son". WJXT Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  16. ^ "New Trial Sought In 1998 Slaying Of Maddie Clifton". WJXT Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  17. ^ "Local News | Jacksonville, FL - St. Augustine, FL - Brunswick, GA". WTLV First Coast News. 2012-08-08. Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  18. ^ Staff writers at WJXT and Associated Press (2012-06-25). "Supreme Court ruling affects child killer's sentence". WJXT Retrieved 2012-06-25. 
  19. ^ Samantha Manning (2015-11-03). "Maddie Clifton's family worries her killer could be set free". WJAX-TV. Retrieved 2016-02-10. 
  20. ^ Staff (2016-09-07). "Maddie Clifton's killer to be resentenced in February". WJAX-TV.