A man who killed an 8-year-old neighbor when he was 14 and then hid her body under his bed should get a new trial because questions about his competency were never probed, his lawyer told a judge Thursday.
Attorney John Bonaccorsy said Joshua Phillips' first-degree murder conviction and life sentence should be thrown out because his previous attorney never raised questions about whether the boy was competent to stand trial for the 1998 murder of Maddie Clifton.
"Fourteen-year-olds generally do not have the type of capacity that an adult has," Bonaccorsy said.
He also said Phillips' trial lawyer never called witnesses to testify on Phillips' behalf and blocked Phillips from testifying, even though he wanted to.
The trial attorney, Richard Nichols, died two years ago.
Prosecutor Jay Plotkin said Nichols did a good job representing Phillips, who is now 20, and that his trial strategy followed the wishes of Phillips and his parents.
In the courtroom Thursday, Maddie's mother, Sheila DeLongis, and Josh's mother, Melissa Phillips, hugged. They told Channel 4's Jim Piggott they shared the common bond of both losing a child.
"I think Sheila and I share that sorrow. We share that bridge -- two different ends," Phillips said.
Phillips never denied killing Maddie. He told police he accidentally hit her in the eye with a baseball as they played in his back yard. He panicked at her screams and was scared his father would punish him.
So he dragged Maddie into his bedroom. He smashed her in the head with a bat to stop her from screaming and when she kept moaning, he grabbed a knife and stabbed her in the throat, he said.
He shoved her under his waterbed and went to wash up. Phillips said he still heard Maddie moaning, so pulled her from the bed and stabbed her until she stopped breathing.
He then joined in a volunteer search for the girl after she was reported missing. Her body was found seven days after she disappeared.
Phillips said she wanted a new trial not to prove Josh's innocence, but to win a chance for him to be released from prison some day.
"Something terrible happened, and we have to deal with that and he has to take responsibility," Phillips said. "What I'm hoping for, due to his age -- he was only 14 years old -- to at least have some hope of someday getting out of there."
"I have faith the right thing will happen," DeLongis said.
No future hearings were scheduled for arguments on the motion because it's uncertain where it will be heard.
The 1999 trial was held in Polk County due to media attention to the case in Jacksonville. The Florida Supreme Court will have to decide that. The state Supreme Court would have to decide whether an appeal would be heard in Duval County or Polk County.
- December 13, 2004: Man Accused Of Killing 8-Year-Old As Teen Wants New Trial
- February 6, 2002: Conviction, Sentence Upheld For Maddie's Killer