TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A man convicted in the high-profile 1998 murder of a Jacksonville girl is appealing to the Florida Supreme Court.
Joshua Phillips, who was 14 at the time he murdered 8-year-old Maddie Clifton, filed a notice Wednesday that is an initial step in appealing to the Supreme Court, according to an online docket at the 1st District Court of Appeal.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled against Phillips last month.
Phillips, now 35, was initially sentenced to life in prison after his conviction on a first-degree murder charge in 1999.
But in a case known as Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 barred mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted of murder.
To address the Miller ruling, the Florida Legislature passed a law that set a sentencing range of 40 years to life for juveniles convicted of murder, with a sentence-review hearing required after 25 years, according to last month’s ruling by the appeals court.
Phillips received a new sentencing hearing after the law took effect and was again sentenced to life in prison in 2017, subject to a review after 25 years.
Phillips appealed, arguing in part that his life sentence violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment because “he has proven himself to be neither incorrigible, irredeemable, nor irreparably corrupt” and that he had matured during nearly two decades in prison, the appeals court said.
But the panel disagreed with his arguments.
“To begin with, Phillips did not receive an inescapable, irrevocable life sentence. … Phillips is entitled to judicial review of his sentence (after 25 years) to determine whether his sentence should be modified based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation,” last month’s ruling said.
Maddie Clifton disappeared Nov. 3, 1998, leading to a major search in Jacksonville. Her body was found a week later under Phillips’ waterbed, and she had been beaten and stabbed repeatedly.