Aiden Fucci’s case draws memories of high profile 1998 murder trial that shook Jacksonville community

Joshua Phillips serving life in prison for murder of 8-year-old Maddie Clifton

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A case that shares similarities to Aiden Fucci’s case was vaguely mentioned during his sentencing trial for the murder of Tristyn Bailey.

In 1998, 14-year-old Joshua Phillips, who is now 39 years old, murdered 8-year-old Maddie Clifton. He was sentenced and resentenced in 2017 to life in prison.

Fucci, now 16, was also 14 years old when he murdered Bailey in 2021. Fucci pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and admitted to fatally stabbing Bailey.

News4JAX spoke to the former Chief Assistant State Attorney Jay Plotkin who tried the case against Phillips.

In that case, the judge had to weigh many different factors including the age and mental capacity of a 14-year-old — something the judge for Fucci’s case would also have to do.

During testimony in Fucci’s sentencing, a psychologist argued what Fucci did to Bailey wasn’t unique and mentioned a horrible detail of Phillips’ case.

“I never saw a case that had the impact on our community that the Joshua Phillips/Maddie Clifton case had,” Plotkin said.

Plotkin said Clifton was presumed missing before her body was found. She was murdered by her neighbor, beaten and stabbed repeatedly, then hidden under Phillips’ waterbed.

“Josh Phillips actually participated in the search around the neighborhood for Maddie,” Plotkin said.

There are similarities between Phillips’ and Fucci’s cases.

Fucci lived in the same neighborhood and went to the same school as Bailey. He stabbed her over 100 times and left her body in the woods. When he was showing police the route of the walk they took that day, he posted a picture on social media asking if anyone had seen her.

In both cases, the mindset of the younger murderers was questioned.

Mental evaluations of Phillips didn’t come out until he was resentenced.

Fucci’s attorneys wouldn’t allow him to be evaluated.

While showing much younger pictures of Fucci, his attorney reminded the judge to consider how he didn’t try to hide the body, how over time his brain will grow and develop, his family history with mental illness, and his emotional neglect.

Plotkin said, just like Phillips’ case, the judge must also weigh the severity of what Fucci did.

“This crime in my mind, and I think most likely in the court’s mind is going to be one with the courts is going to say I think life is appropriate, but we’ll have to wait and see,” Plotkin said.

The defense wants Fucci to be sentenced to 40 years with a 25-year review, instead of life in prison with a 25-year review.

Phillips had a review 21 years after the crime, and the judge upheld his life sentence.

About the Author:

A Florida-born, Emmy Award winning journalist and proud NC A&T SU grad