JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – November 3 marks 19 years since 8-year-old Maddie Clifton first disappeared from her Lakewood home. Her mother searched the neighborhood and called police after Maddie didn’t show up for dinner.
Maddie’s body was found six days later hidden under her neighbor’s waterbed. That neighbor, Josh Phillips, was 14 years old at the time. He was sentenced to life in prison for her murder, but due to a Supreme Court Decision that ruled sentencing juveniles to life was unconstitutional, Josh Phillips was given a second chance and had a re-sentencing hearing in August.
The judge is expected to make his decision on Phillips’ sentence on November 17.
“I woke up this morning and I didn’t want to get out of bed,” said Jessie Clifton, Maddie’s older sister. “I went in her room and sat on her bed and just cried.”
Every November 3, she visits her little sister’s grave.
“It’s more like a ritual now, but I know that’s not where she is, I know she’s in heaven,” Jessie Clifton said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder what she would be like, what I would be like.”
She was too young to be in the courtroom when Phillips was sentenced to life in 1999, so hearing this sentence from the judge will be a first for her in this case; a first she didn’t want to have.
“I’m really on edge about the decision, it makes today a lot harder," she said.
Josh Phillips older brother Daniel Phillips will be there for the second time around. He was in his 20’s when the case first went to court.
“I need to be there for him, our father is gone so I need to be that male influence,” Daniel Phillips said.
He says his brother lives with the guilt every day, but he’s striving to be a better person.
“He’s always tried to put on a brave face for me but he has really suffered in there," he said.
He says he feels for the Cliftons, especially every time this week rolls around. He says his family doesn’t like to discuss it so he tried to stay busy on this anniversary.
Daniel says he admires Jessie Clifton and has always appreciated how she has treated their family when their at the courthouse.
He’s hoping for his brother’s freedom, but says they’re prepared for whatever the judge decides
“It’s in God’s hands,” Daniel Phillips said.
Jessie Clifton says their family is hoping the life-long sentencing for Josh Phillips remains the same.