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Josh Phillips (murderer)

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Josh Phillips (murderer)

Joshua Earl Patrick Phillips
Mug shot of Joshua Phillips
Born (1984-03-17) March 17, 1984 (ageĀ 30)
Criminal penalty Life sentence
Criminal status Incarcerated in Hardee Correctional Institution.

Joshua Earl Patrick "Josh" Phillips (born March 17, 1984) from Jacksonville, Florida was convicted (in July 1999) of the November 1998 murder at 14 years old of an 8-year-old neighbor, Maddie Clifton. He is currently serving a sentence of life in prison without parole for the crime.[1] The murder was the subject of national television coverage, including a documentary on 48 Hours titled "Why did Josh Kill?".[2]

The disappearance

On November 3, 1998, Maddie Clifton disappeared. The first suspect named in the case was neighbor Larry Grisham. Grisham had been arrested twice in the past, both times between 15 and 20 years earlier, in sexual battery cases, but in both incidents, charges were dropped. Grisham failed a lie detector test in relation to Maddie's disappearance, but provided an alibi.[3]

Police called off the search for Maddie, but the community, including over 400 volunteers, persisted. A reward was offered, that initially was $50,000 but later doubled.[4] One of the volunteers was Phillips.

The FBI became involved in the case. Flyers were distributed around town, including at a local Jaguars-Bengals game. America's Most Wanted also offered to broadcast the story.[5]

Murder case

The search ended a week after the disappearance when Phillips's mother Melissa went to clean his room, finding that his waterbed seemed to be "leaking". Upon further examination, she discovered Maddie's body hidden inside the pedestal of Phillips's waterbed. She promptly ran outside her home and went across the street to get the police.[6]

Phillips was arrested that day at his school. He was held in maximum security as he made his first court appearance. It was determined that Clifton's cause of death was from stabbing and clubbing with a baseball bat. Phillips claimed the event happened when he and Maddie were playing baseball one afternoon. Josh, by accident, struck 8 year-old Maddie in the eye with the baseball bat. The injury caused Maddie to scream. Out of his panic, Joshua proceeded to drag her into his room and strangle her with a phone cord for approximately 15 minutes. Soon after, he hit her again with the baseball bat and stabbed her 11 times.[7]

Josh was charged with first-degree murder. His trial was held in Polk County due to the massive amount of media coverage. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of ever being freed. Because he was under 16, he was not eligible for the death penalty under Florida's law at the time.[8]

Though Phillips had no history of violence, some of the evidence retrieved during police searches included violent pornography.[9]

The murder appears to have been motivated by Phillips' fear of his abusive father, who would have been very angry had he found Madelyn inside their house.[10] Phillips stated on Too Young to Kill: 15 Shocking Crimes that if he could take it back, he would, subsequently breaking down into tears.

Following the trial, Maddie Clifton's parents, Steve and Sheila Clifton, divorced.[11] Later, Phillips's father, Steve, was killed in a car accident.[12]


In 2002, an appeals court upheld Phillips' conviction.[13]

In December 2004, Melissa Phillips began to seek a new trial for her son.[14][15] She felt that his young age at the time of the murder should be taken into account.

Two of the officials behind his sentence now have second thoughts.[16]

In 2005, new hearing dates were set for Phillips.[17]

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that sentencing juveniles to mandatory life without parole is unconstitutional. It is unclear if his attorney will seek re-sentencing.[18]

See also


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