State: Josh Phillips was 'diabolical'; can't blame 'underdeveloped brain'

Maddie Clifton's family made a plea to have her killer stay in prison during his re-sentencing hearing on Thursday.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The re-sentencing hearing for Josh Phillips wrapped up Thursday after about six hours in the courtroom.

The morning started out like every other morning that week, with the family of Maddie Clifton joining hands in a circle and praying with state attorney Bernie de la Rionda outside the courtroom.

The state spent the morning diving into evidence from the 1998 murder scene in Phillips' bedroom where he hid 8-year-old Clifton's body for six days until police discovered her under his waterbed.

Phillips put head down and wiped his eyes as the state showed graphic pictures from the crime scene where they discovered Clifton’s body. They also went through photos of the Leatherman knife and baseball he used to beat and stab her to death.

The state called three former investigators who worked on the case 18 years ago.

Former detective Willie Taylor recalled his interview with Phillips in 1998. During his testimony Thursday, he got up and re-enacted how he said Phillips demonstrated how he hit Maddie with the baseball bat.

Detective Lonnie Mills said his team had suspected foul play in Maddie's disappearance in the beginning, he recalls how involved the entire city was at the time. He said it was the worst murder he ever investigated in his 16 years on the job.

Former lead evidence technician for JSO David Chase recalled seeing a “missing person” flyer with Maddie’s face on it on Phillips’ desk next to his bed where her body was hidden.

After that, the Sheila DeLongis, Maddie’s mom, Steve Clifton, Maddie’s dad, and Jessie Clifton, Maddie’s older sister each got up and gave emotional statements how to how this murder has torn their lives apart. They each pleaded with the Honorable Judge Wallace to keep Phillips in prison for life, the same plea they made nearly 20 years ago when the murdered happened.

In closing arguments, the defense pointed out that Phillips did not apologize to the family prior to this week because that's what was advised by his counsel. The defense's main argument this week was about the lack of development of the brain when Phillips committed the murder at age 14.

The state contends the murder was diabolical, devious and sophisticated and for that reason cannot be blamed on an “underdeveloped” brain, saying that Phillips had dinner with his family right after it happened.

Jessie Clifton, Maddie's older sister, said she would feel unsafe if Phillips was let out since he seemed obsessed with her at the time. Her parents echoed that sentiment.

The judge will now take time to determine whether to keep Phillips in prison for life for the 1998 murder or, as the defense requests, sentence him to 40 years in prison plus five years probation, including his time already served.

They will reconvene for a hearing on Sept. 22. That’s when the judge will set a re-sentencing date for Phillips.

Both families declined to talk to the media on Thursday.

The Cliftons thank the community for their support and prayers.

The Phillips said they had to rush out from the courtroom because they had limited time to go speak with Phillips after court.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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