JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jessie Clifton was just 11 years old when her little sister, Maddie, was murdered. Now, she's 25, getting ready to graduate from UNF, and talking to Action News about the possibility that her sister's killer, Josh Phillips, could have a second chance at freedom.
"She doesn't have a second chance," said Jessie of her 8-year-old sister. "She can't ever walk the face of the earth again."
Maddie disappeared from her Lakewood home in November of 1998. The entire community searched for her. That search ended a week later, when Maddie's body was found hidden under 14 year old Phillips's water bed. He had been sleeping on top of it.
He stabbed Maddie, and beat her with a baseball bat. A clear cut motive for the murder was never revealed.
Action News asked Jessie Clifton, "Do you think he was just a kid who made a mistake? Or do you think there's something deep inside of him that's disturbed?" She replied, "I think, at the time, there was something that was a little deep inside of him that was disturbing."
She went on to tell us something we didn't know before. "Not a lot of people knew that he was actually stalking our family prior. He was breaking into our home, doing just little absurd things just to kind of aggravate somebody."
Phillips, now 28 years old, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He's been serving time in a Hardee County prison. But it's possible he won't be there forever. This summer, the Supreme Court made it unconstitutional for minors to receive mandatory life sentences, basically equating it with cruel and unusual punishment. As a result, Phillips will likely be re-sentenced.
Clifton hopes that doesn't happen. She says Phillips deserves to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Action News asked her, "Have you forgiven him?" She hesitated, then said, "That's kind of a hard question."
"I know that God forgives everybody no matter what," said Clifton. "But when it's something, I don't know, that haunts you everyday, it's just hard."
"So when I want to forgive him a little bit, it's like ugh! I can't, but I want to. It's in my head, but it's not fully in my heart."
Clifton says she's exchanged letters with Phillips over the years. But they've never spoken face to face. She says she'd like to, though, to help her make sense of such tragedy.
Meanwhile, Clifton is turning this tragedy into a positive. She's currently an intern at the State Attorney's Office, working as a victim's advocate. She said, "I really feel like there's not enough I can do to give back to the community. So, I got into victims advocacy. I love it. I feel like I'm actually giving back and helping people that have gone through what I've been through. And I can tell them, your life is going to be okay."