Defense: Teen accused of killing child 'not a monster'
July 7, 1999
BARTOW, Florida (CNN) -- A 15-year-old accused of killing an 8-year-old neighbor is guilty of a "brutal first-degree murder," a prosecutor said Wednesday. But the boy's defense attorney said that while his client may have committed a "monstrous act," he is "not a monster."
Defense attorney Richard Nichols said there is no doubt that Joshua Phillips killed Maddie Clifton last November. But, Phillips is not guilty of premeditated murder, Nichols said during opening statements.
"The state wants to tell you that Joshua Phillips was a monster, but the evidence is going to show he is not a monster," Nichols said. "Regardless of your verdict, Mr. Phillips has essentially forfeited his life."
Nichols said Phillips did not plan the killing, which took place in Jacksonville, Florida.
"It had to be a product of panic," he said. "What we certainly have is manslaughter under the law."
But prosecutor Harry Shorstein argued Phillips was guilty of "three vicious attacks" in which he hit Clifton with a baseball bat, cut her throat, then repeatedly stabbed her before hiding her body under his waterbed.
Shorstein said the incident began when the two were playing ball in Phillip's back yard, and a ball Phillips hit struck Clifton in the eye.
"She was yelling and screaming, and he didn't know what to do," Shorstein said.
He said evidence will show that Phillips dragged Clifton into his bedroom, hit her with a baseball bat to keep her quiet, and when she moaned, cut her throat and stabbed her.
Shorstein said for the next seven days, Phillips slept on the water bed with Clifton's body beneath it. He sealed the edges with tape and used incense to hide the odor of her decaying body.
Jurors, he said, will see "the water bed frame that he made into Maddie Clifton's coffin."
Phillips, who was 14 when Clifton died, is being tried as an adult. If convicted of premeditated murder, the maximum sentence he could receive under Florida law is life in prison. No one under 16 can face the death penalty.
Because of pretrial publicity, the trial was moved 200 miles southwest of Jacksonville to Bartow, a town of about 15,000.
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