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After 4-day hearing, Josh Phillips returning to prison

In prison since age 14, Phillips to be resentenced in Maddie Clifton murder

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After a four-day hearing, 33-year-old Josh Phillips will return to prison not knowing if he will ever get out on his conviction at age 15 in the murder of his neighbor, Maddie Clifton.

Hours earlier, the 8-year-old's mother pleaded with judge to keep him in prison.

"The defendant now wants a second chance to live a second life. What does Maddie get to appeal her death sentence to?" Shelia DeLongis said. "Should he ever released from prison, I pray that I will no longer be on this earth."

Phillips, who has been in prison for more than half his life for killing Maddie, was ordered resentenced after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that life-without-parole sentences of juveniles are unconstitutional.

The state wants Phillips sentenced to life in prison with a review in 25 years, while the defense is asking for a 40-year sentence with credit for the 19 years he has already served. That would allow Phillips to go free at age 55.

The defense attorney asked the judge should rule on the man Phillips has become, not the 14-year-old who killed Maddie in 1998. But the prosecutor argued that the manner in which Maddie was killed, the hiding of her body, participating in the search and even having a missing persons flyer in his bedroom cannot be discounted.

Circuit Judge Waddell Wallace said he would take the case under advisement and would not announce Phillips' sentence until after a Sept. 22 hearing. He ordered Phillips be returned to prison until that hearing.

Earlier in the day, Maddie's father, motherand older sister made victim impact statements.

"We were raising our girls in a Christian home where we prayed every day. What we didn't know was that the devil himself had moved in right across the street. The same devil that picked up his flashlight and proceeded to look for her, knowing good and well where she was the whole time," DeLongis said.

"Joshua's incarceration isn't going to bring Maddie back or restore the lives of our family, but a punishment must be applied," Maddie's father, Steve Clifton said. "I believe Joshua Phillips should spend the rest of his life in prison for what he took from us all."

"When I needed somebody to talk to, there was nobody. Nobody understood me," Maddie's sister, Jessie Clifton, told the judge. "There are days when I go to the cemetery and I sit down in the grass because I don't have anybody else to talk to, so I talked to her and the ground."

Thursday morning, a former Jacksonville Sheriff's Office evidence technician who photographed Josh Phillips' bedroom, where Maddie Clifton was found dead in November 1998, testified Thursday that it was one of the worst murder scenes he worked in 16 years on the job.

He was one of two former Jacksonville police officers who worked the murder case that led to the arrest of the 14-year-old neighbor of the Clifton family. 

A former JSO homicide sergeant also testified, showing the bat used to kill the 8-year-old and recounted the interview in which Phillips admitted hitting the girl, and when she hadn't died, stabbing her.