New sentencing hearing set again for man convicted of killing 8-year-old girl

Joshua Phillips killed Maddie Clifton in 1998, sentenced to life without parole

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A resentencing hearing for a man convicted of killing his 8-year-old neighbor in 1998 has been rescheduled, again, for August.

Joshua Phillips, now 33, was convicted in the murder of Maddie Clifton and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. At the time of the murder, Phillips was 14 and at the time of his sentencing, he was 15. 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that automatic life-without-parole sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. The Supreme Court said in 2015 that the law is retroactive, which is why Phillips' lawyer, Tom Fallis, asked the court in March for a new sentencing hearing, which was set for June 19.

On Wednesday, the defense asked for another continuance, saying it needs more time to prepare. It was granted.

Prosecutors and Maddie's family said they are frustrated at the delays. The new date for the resentencing is Aug. 7. 

Police said Phillips stabbed Maddie and clubbed her to death in his San Jose area home. He hid her body under the waterbed in his room.

Phillips' mother discovered the body a week later, after a massive search for the missing girl. Phillips was convicted a year later.

At a hearing last year, Fallis said some of the medical expertise from Phillips' original trial is no longer relevant because of current research into juvenile psychology.

"We're going to need a lot of experts," Fallis said. "This is going to be a very long hearing when it's set, and there will be evidence from what's happened in the last 20 years, what's happened in prison. I suspect there may be experts on prison life and how it affected a 14-year-old who's now 30-some-odd years old, and so the court needs to be educated. And the way you do that is through experts."

Fallis said new scientific research on the development of children's brains could reveal a lot in Phillips' case.

"We have to determine what was going through that young child's mind at the time,” Fallis said. “Did he have the ability or the requisite intent to commit the crime he was accused of? Children are different, and finally it's been recognized.”

Fallis said he believes that his client can be rehabilitated.

“I believe the court will, too, once they see what he's accomplished in the last almost 20 years in prison,” Fallis said. “He's come a long way, and that's going to be evidence. … The court is going to be asked to make a prediction."