November 11, 1998

From the
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Neighbor boy held until trial on charges of killing Maddie Clifton
By RON WORD, Associated Press Writer

The 14-year-old boy charged with killing 8-year-old girl Maddie Clifton and hiding her body under his water bed made his first court appearance Wednesday and will remain locked up until his trial.

Joshua Earl Patrick Phillips, a tall, thin youngster with sandy brown curly hair, wore ankle and wrist shackles and did not speak during the two-minute hearing. His attorney Richard Nichols did not enter a plea.

Joshua's parents, Steve and Melissa Phillips, stood beside his attorney as Duval County Judge James Ruth ordered him held under tight security in isolation at a juvenile detention center.

Assistant State Attorney E. McRae Mathis said the judge's ruling was the juvenile court equivalent of holding an adult without bond. Another hearing was scheduled for Nov. 20.

Police said Joshua, who was home alone, stabbed Maddie Clifton nine times in the body and twice in the neck and hit her in the head with a baseball bat shortly after she disappeared on Nov. 3. Police recovered a knife and a bat believed used in the killing.

Joshua was charged with the murder Tuesday after his mother found Maddie's body in the frame of his water bed. Mathis said no decision will be made immediately on whether to charge Joshua as an adult.

"We want to wait until all the reports and all the information is in before we make a decision early next week," Mathis said after the hearing. "This case will receive the highest response allowed by law."

Sheriff Nat Glover refused to discuss a motive but said Joshua told police that while he was beating Maddie, his father came home. Joshua "came out so his father wouldn't go into his room, and he continued to hear some movement from her, some sounds from her, and after he got clear of his father he went back and somewhat finished the job," Glover said.

Nichols said he expects prosecutors to try Joshua as an adult and refused to label a statement given to investigators as a confession.

"He gave them a statement about what happened," Nichols said. "After I met with him, he did not talk to them any more."

"He understands what we are talking about and what is going on," said Nichols, who added that Joshua cried during their meeting.

Maddie knew her neighbor as a playmate and friend who lived across the street from her home in the working-class Lakewood neighborhood. She vanished while chipping golf balls with friends. "There was no indication she had any reason to be afraid or had any apprehension to go with him," Glover said.

If you who'd like to send cards to Maddie Clifton's family or donate money to a memorial fund in her memory, mail to:
  • San Jose Catholic Church
    c/o Maddie Clifton Memorial Fund
    3619 Toledo Road
    Jacksonville, FL 32217
Joshua's mother grew suspicious of her son after police searched her home Monday, the third time houses in the neighborhood were searched, and smelled an odor coming from the water bed. She saw a liquid oozing from the bed Tuesday and when she pulled aside the frame, she saw Maddie's feet, Glover said. She summoned an officer patrolling the neighborhood.

Glover said Maddie did not appear to have been sexually assaulted.

An hour after police were called to the Phillipses' home, Joshua was pulled from class at A. Philip Randolph Academies of Technology, where he started as a freshman in August and has a "C" average.

"There is nothing here that would make you think he would do what he is accused of doing," principal Jerome Wheeler told The Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville while reviewing Joshua's school record.

Sam Ilardi, who lives next to the Phillips family and allowed his 8-year-old son to play with Joshua, said he never suspected the boy could be involved in Maddie's disappearance. The family had lived in the neighborhood for about two years.

"He was a good kid. He was always, 'yes sir, no sir,' to me," Ilardi told the newspaper.

Alice Darby, who knew the Clifton family for years, called Maddie "a precious little girl.

"She had her hair cut recently, and I was outside and she came up to ask me how I liked it," Mrs. Darby said. "I said, 'It's just adorable,' and it was."

Stay tuned to NewsChannel 4 for continuing coverage of this tragic story.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)