Justices turn down appeal from Maddie Clifton’s killer Joshua Phillips

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — More than two decades after an 8-year-old girl was murdered in Jacksonville, the Florida Supreme Court on Monday turned down an appeal by a man convicted in the high-profile case.

Justices declined to hear arguments in the appeal filed by Joshua Phillips, who was 14 at the time he murdered 8-year-old Maddie Clifton in 1998. As is common, the Supreme Court did not explain its reasons for declining to take up the case.

Phillips, now 36, went to the Supreme Court in January after the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled against him in an appeal that focused on his sentence.

Phillips was initially sentenced to life in prison after his conviction on a first-degree murder charge in 1999. But in a case known as Miller v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 barred mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles convicted of murder.

To address the Miller ruling, the Florida Legislature passed a law that set a sentencing range of 40 years to life for juveniles convicted of murder, with a sentence-review hearing required after 25 years, according to the appeals-court ruling.

Phillips received a new sentencing hearing after the law took effect and was again sentenced to life in prison in 2017, subject to a review after 25 years.

Phillips appealed, arguing in part that his life sentence violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment because “he has proven himself to be neither incorrigible, irredeemable, nor irreparably corrupt” and that he had matured during nearly two decades in prison, the appeals court said.

But the appeals court disagreed with his arguments. “To begin with, Phillips did not receive an inescapable, irrevocable life sentence. … Phillips is entitled to judicial review of his sentence (after 25 years) to determine whether his sentence should be modified based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation,” the ruling said.

Maddie Clifton disappeared Nov. 3, 1998, leading to a major search in Jacksonville. Her body was found a week later under Phillips’ waterbed, and she had been beaten and stabbed repeatedly.