JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Maddie Clifton's killer will spend the rest of his life in prison following a re-sentencing hear on Friday.
It was a monumental decision for one judge and an emotional day for two families as 33-year-old Josh Phillips received a life prison sentence for the first degree-murder of 8-year-old Clifton in 1998.
After being sentenced to life in prison in 1999, a Supreme Court decision later ruled it unconstitutional to impose a life sentence on juveniles, so Phillips was granted a re-sentencing hearing in August.
The courtroom was silent as he entered Friday morning smiling to his family.
Before handing down the decision, Judge Waddell Wallace took time to explain his 30-page document detailing what led him to his conclusion, calling the case “extraordinary” and “unique” from other child murder cases.
“I think it’s appropriate to tell people why you are doing what you’re doing,” Wallace said. “This act was so outrageous that if he was out the community would continue to suffer.”
Wallace told Phillips that he could still have a meaningful life in prison.
“Okay Mr. Phillips it’s a sad day for me, I just tried to do my duty the best I could,” Wallace said.
It was the last thing the Phillips family wanted to hear, but Clifton's family breathed a sigh of relief.
“At first it didn’t sound like it was going to go our way, I didn’t know it was going to go into that much detail,” Jessie Clifton said.
She stood next to her mom, Sheila Delongis-Clifton, who spoke out for the first time in years.
“No one should ever have to go through this twice, we did it,” Delongis-Clifton said.
The Phillips family asked for privacy Friday, but Phillips' older brother, Daniel Phillips, spoke exclusively with First Coast News before the hearing.
“I have to be there for him now,” he said. “It devastates him every day, he has suffered in there.”
He said while his family is in pain, they feel for the Cliftons and highly respect them.
“I can’t imagine what they’re feeling,” Daniel Phillips said. “I have so much respect for Jessie, she is a very kind soul.”
“I heard what he said and I commend him for that, my heart goes out to him and his family,” Jessie said in response.
Her mom echoes that sentiment to Josh Phillips’ mother, saying that “no family should ever have to go through this."
“I feel for her and I love her, it is not her fault, I do not blame her, it is Josh, it is all Josh Phillips’ fault," she said.
She said she is glad justice is served and if needed they will continue to fight if the defense follows up with an appeal.
“She was something else,” she said looking at Maddie’s picture. “And I miss her so.”
In six years, Phillips will get an automatic review because it will mark his 25 years into his life sentence.
His family said they are just trying to process the news together right now, but they aren’t giving up.
Friday evening, the State Attorney’s Officer released the following statement:
“Judge Wallace’s sentence was consistent with the mandate issued by the U.S. Supreme Court. We strongly believed that this is one of the uncommon cases that qualifies for a life sentence. I hope this decision brings some measure of peace for Maddie’s family and our community.”
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