15-year-old gets life in prison for murder of playmate

Friday, August 20th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BARTOW, Fla. (AP) -- A 15-year-old boy was sentenced today to
life in prison with no chance of parole for beating and stabbing an
8-year-old neighbor girl whose body was found days later stuffed in
the frame of his waterbed.

Joshua Phillips, 15, was tried as an adult last month and
convicted of first-degree murder in the Nov. 3 death of Maddie
Clifton. The pixie-faced girl lived 25 feet across the street from
him in a Jacksonville neighborhood.

Joshua had even pretended to help in the neighborhood search for
Maddie when there was hope she was still alive.

The sentencing came after emotional pleas from the Phillips
family, and from the Clifton family, in a hearing that lasted about
an hour.

Joshua, standing with his head bowed, showed no emotion when
told that he would not be sentenced as a juvenile but as an adult,
and would spend the rest of his life in prison.

"I do not perceive you to be a child," said state Circuit
Judge Charles Arnold. "Your monstrous act made you an adult."

"I'm certain that on your Judgment Day you, Joshua Patrick
Philips, will be given a harsher sentence than I could impose,"
the judge said.

Florida law bars the death penalty for killers under 16. Joshua
was 14 at the time of the killing.

Joshua never denied killing Maddie, but claimed the attack
started as an accident. He said he accidentally hit her in the eye
with a baseball as they played in his back yard, then panicked at
her screams and hit and stabbed her to quiet her.

Maddie's body was hidden for a week until Joshua's mother made
the grisly discovery. An autopsy showed the girl was beaten over
the head and stabbed at least nine times in the chest and twice in
the neck.

The trial was moved 400 miles to Polk County in rural central
Florida because of intense publicity in Jacksonville. Testimony
took one day. The defense presented no witnesses.

The teen's attorney tried unsuccessfully to sway jurors during
opening and closing arguments. While the case might sound like a
"horror story like from Stephen King" it was not premeditated
murder, said Richard Nichols, urging a manslaughter conviction.

"This case was open and shut," said prosecutor Harry