Prosecution rests in trial of teen accused of killing neighbor girl
July 7, 1999
BARTOW, Florida (CNN) -- Closing arguments are set to begin Thursday morning in the trial of a 15-year-old boy accused of killing an 8-year-old neighbor.
The defendant, Joshua Phillips, is charged with first-degree murder in the stabbing and beating death of Maddie Clifton.
Shortly after the state rested, the judge denied a defense motion to drop the murder charge and another motion for a directed verdict of acquittal.
Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday after presenting about five hours of evidence. The defense rested without calling any witnesses.
During opening statements, a prosecutor said Phillips was guilty of a "brutal first-degree murder." But the boy's defense attorney said that while his client may have committed a "monstrous act," he is "not a monster."
While opposing counsels made their presentations, the defendant, Joshua Phillips, sat motionless, eyes mostly gazing downward.
"Because of an act that began as an accident and deteriorated through panic that bordered on madness, he engaged in a monstrous act," defense attorney Richard Nichols told the jurors.
Nichols said there is no doubt that Phillips killed Maddie Clifton last November. But, Phillips is not guilty of premeditated murder, Nichols said.
"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.
"This is a case about the brutal first degree murder of an 8-year-old child," the prosecutor told jurors.
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 cut her throat and stabbed her when she moaned.
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."
In a dramatic moment, prosecutors showed jurors the actual waterbed Phillips used to hide the girl's body, the bed where he continued to sleep until his mother discovered the body a week later.
In pictures shown to the jury, there was a flier of the missing girl on the headboard of the bed. The night Maddie disappeared, Phillips joined the massive community search to find her
But while the bed was brought into the court, the defense is objecting to other evidence the prosecution plans to offer, claiming it is so graphic it would be prejudicial to Phillips' defense.
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 younger than 16 may be sentenced to death.
Because of pretrial publicity, the trial was moved 200 miles southwest of Jacksonville to Bartow, a town of about 15,000.
Correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.
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