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Florida teen guilty of killing 8-year-old neighbor

Boy could get life without parole

July 8, 1999
Web posted at: 3:28 p.m. EDT (1928 GMT)

In this story:

Defense: Killing was accidental

Hit with a bat, then stabbed

Prosecution hints at sexual motive


BARTOW, Florida (CNN) -- A Florida teen-ager put on trial as an adult was found guilty Thursday of fatally bludgeoning and stabbing his 8-year-old neighbor, then stuffing her body into the frame of his water bed. Joshua Phillips, 15, could receive a maximum sentence of life without parole.

A jury convicted Phillips of first-degree murder in last year's death of Maddie Clifton, who lived across the street from him in Jacksonville.

Phillips showed no emotion as the verdict was read. Maddie's parents, Steve and Sheila Clifton, blinked back tears.

Circuit Judge Charles Arnold set a sentencing date of August 12.

Defense: Killing was accidental

Maddie disappeared November 3, 1998, prompting a neighborhood search involving hundreds of volunteers, including Phillips.

Her decomposing body was found seven days later, stuffed in the frame of Phillips' water bed. He sealed the edges with tape and used incense to mask the odor.

The teen's attorney, Richard Nichols, argued that Maddie's murder wasn't premeditated, and he urged jurors to convict him of manslaughter.

"We're not here to act out of some form of vengeance," Nichols told jurors. "We're not here to act as a bunch of well-dressed vigilantes."

Detectives testified during the trial that Phillips confessed to the murder.

Hit with a bat, then stabbed

According to Phillips' version of events, he accidentally hit Maddie in the eye with a baseball while they were playing in his backyard. She began screaming.

Phillips told detectives he panicked because he feared being punished by his father, and he dragged Maddie into his bedroom. When she wouldn't stop screaming, he hit her in the head with a bat.

When she kept moaning, Phillips grabbed a knife and stabbed her in the neck.

According to Phillips, he then stuffed her body into the frame of his water bed and went to wash up. After he heard her moaning, he pulled her from under the bed and stabbed her again until she stopped breathing.

An autopsy showed Maddie was beaten over the head and stabbed at least nine times in the chest and twice in the neck.

"The evidence shows us there was an accident that deteriorated into panic and then murder," Nichols said.

Prosecution hints at sexual motive

State Attorney Harry Shorstein said Phillips' story was unlikely, and suggested that the murder may have been sexually motivated.

There was no blood on the ball, no blood in the yard and no dirt on Maddie's body or clothes.

He said Maddie's pants and underpants were removed from her body and that Phillips, who was 14 at the time of the slaying, had previously talked to Maddie and her sister about sex.

Since Phillips is under 16, he can't face the death penalty under Florida law. But he could be sent to prison for life with no chance of parole.

His trial was moved 200 miles from Jacksonville to the central Florida town of Bartow, about 40 miles southeast of Tampa, because of intense news coverage.

Correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.

Prosecution rests in trial of teen accused of killing neighbor girl
July 7, 1999
Jury selected for teen accused of killing neighbor child
July 6, 1999
Florida boy charged as adult in neighbor's murder
November 19, 1998
Florida to try 14-year-old as adult in killing of playmate
November 16, 1998
Missing girl's body found under neighbor's bed
November 10, 1998

The Jimmy Ryce Center for the Victims of Predatory Abduction
  • Maddie Clifton
Maddie Clifton Memorial
Keep Maddie's Memory Alive! - Remembering Maddie
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