Sister of Maddie Clifton on killer's apology: 'It still doesn't change anything'

by: Russell Colburn, Action News Jax Updated:

With the possibility of her sister’s killer getting a new sentence, Jessie Clifton is opening up to Action News Jax.

In 1998, Joshua Phillips, 14, killed Jessie Clifton’s 8-year-old sister Maddie.


Raw video: Jessie, Maddie Clifton's sister, speaks to Action News Jax


Phillips was sentenced to life in prison.

This week, Phillips’ case is getting another look because of a Supreme Court ruling that says it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Friday, Jessie Clifton said it’s not up to her to forgive Phillips.

“Every time forgiveness word is brought up, all I see is that guy on the stand showing how he did it, and it's just like, how do you expect me to take on that burden to forgive you?” Clifton said. “I can't.”

Going through old photos of her and her sister Friday, for a moment, Jessie Clifton escaped.

“This is [a picture] of [me and Maddie] when we would go snow skiing,” Clifton said, showing Action News Jax old photos.

But then the harsh reality set in, and Clifton snapped back.

“It doesn't feel real,” she said. “It doesn't feel like it was my life. It was. It's not anymore.”

While search crews looked for the little girl, Phillips kept Maddie Clifton’s body hidden under his bed for six days.

Jessie Clifton remembers when Maddie first disappeared, and some Jacksonville officers took her to breakfast.

“I remember walking into the IHOP and seeing a missing-persons poster on the window walking into the restaurant, thinking this isn't happening, this is not real, we're going to find her,” Clifton said. 

“I was in denial. I wanted to rip it down, I wanted to keep it up," she said.

This week, the man who caused all that pain apologized to the Clifton family in court.

“I did something horrible, and I’m so sorry,” Phillips said on the stand.

Clifton said the apology came as a shock to her family.

“It was good to hear,” Clifton said. “It still doesn't change anything, but I think it needed to be said.”

Phillips will be up for parole again in six years, and Jessie Clifton said she’ll be there, too, if she has to.

“I will fight for [Maddie] until I'm no longer on this earth, and I always will,” Clifton said. “She was my best friend, and I will always fight for her, because I know if it was the other way around she'd do it for me.”

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