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Joshua Phillips

Mug shot of Joshua Phillips.
Born March 17, 1984 (1984-03-17) (age 26)
Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.
Penalty Life sentence
Status Incarcerated in Hardee Correctional Institution.

Joshua Earl Patrick Phillips (born March 17, 1984) from Jacksonville, Florida who (at 14 years old), in July 1999 was convicted of the November 1998 murder of an 8-year-old neighbor, Maddie Clifton. He is currently serving a sentence of life in prison without parole for the crime.[1]

The murder was the subject of intense national television coverage, including a documentary on 48 Hours titled "Why did Josh Kill?".[2].


The disappearance

On November 3, 1998, Clifton disappeared. The first suspect named in the case was neighbor Larry Grisham. Grisham had been arrested twice in the past, both times between 15 and 20 years earlier, in sexual battery cases, but in both incidents, charges were dropped. Grisham failed a lie detector test in relation to Clifton's disappearance, but provided an alibi[3].

Police called off the search for Clifton, but the community, including over 400 volunteers, persisted. A reward was offered, that initially was $50,000 but later doubled[4]. One of the volunteers was Phillips.

The FBI became involved in the case. Flyers were distributed around town, including at a local Jaguars-Bengals game. America's Most Wanted also offered to broadcast the story[5].

Murder case

The search ended a week after the disappearance when Phillips's mother Melissa went to clean his room, finding that his waterbed seemed to be "leaking". Upon further examination, she discovered Clifton's body hidden inside the pedestal of Phillips's waterbed. She promptly ran outside her home and went across the street to get the police.[6].

Phillips was arrested that day at his school. He was held in maximum security as he made his first court appearance. It was determined that Clifton's cause of death was from stabbing and clubbing with a baseball bat[7]. Both these weapons were retrieved by police.

He was charged with first-degree murder. His trial was held in Polk County due to the massive amount of media coverage. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of him ever being freed. Because he was under 16, he was not eligible for the death penalty under Florida's law at the time[8].

Phillip's motive has remained a mystery. Even Phillips himself has been unable to answer the question as to why he committed the murder when interviewed from prison. Though he had no history of violence, some of the evidence retrieved during police searches included violent pornography[9].

Following the trial, Phillips's father Steve was killed in a car accident[10]. Clifton's parents, Steve and Sheila Clifton, later divorced[11].


In 2002, an appeals court upheld Phillips' conviction[12].

In December 2004, Melissa Phillips began to seek a new trial for her son[13][14]. She felt that his young age at the time of the murder should be taken into account.

Two of the officials behind his sentence now have second thoughts[15].

In 2005, new hearing dates were set for Phillips[16]. Meanwhile, Clifton's mother has been fighting back[17].

See also




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