Man Serving Life In Maddie Clifton Murder Gets New Sentencing Hearing

Aug 8, 2017

A death that rocked the Jacksonville community nearly 20 years ago is back in court this week.

Arguments continued Tuesday in a resentencing hearing for the man convicted of killing 8-year-old Maddie Clifton as a teenager in 1998. 

Witnesses admitted there is no way to know if Josh Phillips will reoffend if he's released.

Lawyers for the now 33-year-old called more witnesses Tuesday to talk about Phillips' behavior in prison since he was sentenced to life without parole at age 15.

His sentence and those of thousands of other juveniles were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012, prompting the resentencing hearing.

The first witness called Monday was a psychologist testifying for the defense, who said multiple times that based on his evaluation of Phillips earlier this year, he believes Phillips is being rehabilitated, if not fully rehabilitated already.

"He committed a horrendous act and it’s tragic," Dr. Steven Bloomfield said. "But I think it wasn’t, it doesn’t seem to me, based on everything I’ve read and my discussions with him, that he planned to do this. It seems to me it fits into a pattern of an immature thought process, not a psychosis."

Witnesses called Tuesday spoke about Phillips' disciplinary history in prison, saying he has only four reports on file and none since 2005.

Both said that while the goal of prison is rehabilitation and that Phillips has behaved better than most during his sentence, there's no way to really know if he might end up back in prison.

Phillips was convicted of killing his neighbor, Maddie Clifton, when he was 14 years old, on Nov. 3, 1998. Court records show Phillips hit the 8-year-old with a baseball bat several times, slit her throat, then hid her body in his bed as police, family and strangers searched for her for a week.

Phillips' attorney is asking the court for a sentence of 40 years with credit for time served, but the prosecution wants life with review after 25 years.

Maddie's parents and sister were among a large group of family members attending the hearing, which is expected to continue until at least Thursday. Phillips' family is also in court.

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