JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Nearly two decades after her sister was murdered by the boy across the street, Jessie Clifton moves back in to her childhood home in Lakewood.
On Nov. 3, 1998 she recalls every detail about Maddie's disappearance. Six days later, 8-year-old Maddie's body was discovered in Josh Phillips' bedroom in the house across the street. Josh's own mother discovered the body under his waterbed.
This week’s re-sentencing hearing for Phillips could give him a second chance and allow him to get out of spending the rest of his life in prison thanks to a new ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The hearing forced Maddie’s parents relive her murder as the brutal details were recounted in court.
For Jessie Clifton, Maddie’s older sister by three years, she was hearing much of it for the first time since she was only 11 during the trial.
"They wouldn’t let me in the courtroom," she said. "I sat in a room for four days not knowing anything."
She said she didn’t have to hear it, she lived it.
She recalls the moments that followed the terrible news when Maddie’s body was discovered. A group of police officers took her down the street to IHOP.
"They sat me down and ordered me everything on the menu, they let me just talk," she said. "I remember when I walked into IHOP I saw a missing person poster on the wall and I said we are going to find her, I was in denial."
Fast forward nearly two decades, she did not expect the person who caused all that pain to get a second chance.
"Going through it another week, it’s like emotional bashing you," Clifton said.
To add to that emotion, Phillips apologized for the first time this week.
"I applaud him for doing that, that had to be hard," she said. "Forgiveness is not in my hands, I’m a Christian, I believe in God, but that’s not up to me."
As they wait for a final decision from the judge, Jessie Clifton is enjoying her childhood home, where she plans to stay forever.
She said it's the place that represents the only happy memories in her life with her mom, dad and Maddie all together.
"This feel like home," she said.
Jessie Clifton said if the judge does decide to give Phillips a new, shorter sentence, she will continue to fight for Maddie.
"Because I know she would do that for me," she said.
She calls Maddie her best friend. She has yet to decide what to do with Maddie's old room, but it's going to always be a special place, she said.
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