JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After nearly 20 years, the family of Maddie Clifton is back in the courtroom with their daughter’s killer Josh Phillips.
Phillips was sentenced to life in prison after murdering Clifton in 1998. She was only 8 years old at the time; he was 14.
His case is back in the Duval County Courthouse with help from defense attorney Tom Fallis as he attempts to get a new sentence, an opportunity that resulted from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to help protect juvenile convicts.
Day two of the hearing started out with the Clifton family gathering in a circle outside the courtroom with state prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda leading them in prayer. Phillips entered the courtroom smiling at his family in the pews, but otherwise has remained silent and emotionless.
On Monday Dr. Stephen Bloomfield was the only witness called to testify. He was on the stand for hours answering questions from the defense and state. Dr. Bloomfield is a psychologist brought in by the defense. He was declared an expert in assessing Phillips’ mental status.
He said Phillips, now 33 years old, has potential to fully rehabilitate and re-enter society. After interviewing Phillips he believed he did not plan out the murder; instead, he called it “impulsive” and “bizarre” and said that Phillips just panicked and didn’t know what to do.
When cross-examined by the state, Dr. Bloomfield was less confident with his answers. He said he was familiar with the case when he first took the stand, but then later could not recall details of the murder when pressed by the prosecution. At one point he said he “should start tape recording” his assessments because he was hazy on the answers. The toughest part of the day for the families was one when the state had to go through what happened about 18 years ago. Many family members had to leave the courtroom.
On Tuesday the defense called six witnesses:
Todd Mitchell, a department of corrections officer who monitored Phillips while in prison. He saw Phillips once a year and went over his records, describing four “minor” disciplinary reports on file.
Dr. Laura Bedard, a former prison warden, who worked with Phillips in an inmate rehabilitation program.
Reverend Robert Huguenin, an Anglican priest who called in over the phone, said he helped watch over Phillips. He had other inmates look out for him too.
Melissa Woods, a non-profit volunteer who says she would help Phillips re-enter society if he’s released. On the stand she said she was there solely to advocate for his release to he “does not die in prison”.
Harry Shorstein, the lead prosecutor and state attorney at the time of the original case in 1998. He sentenced Phillips to life in prison. On Tuesday he could not recall many details about the case, admitting his memory wasn’t as good as it was 20 years ago but said he may feel differently about the sentence now that he knows more about the “undeveloped” adolescent mind.
Paul Pinkham, a former Florida Times-Union reporter who interviewed Phillips in prison in 2008, was asked to recount how Phillips felt about the murder. He recalled Phillips feeling remorseful and tearing up at one point.
Attorneys expect to wrap the case up on Thursday.