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Phillips v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

December 17, 2019

Joshua Phillips, Appellant,
State of Florida, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

          On appeal from the Circuit Court for Duval County. Waddell A. Wallace, Judge.

          Howard L. "Rex" Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and Carol J. Y. Wilson, Assistant Public Defender, Bartow, for Appellant.

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, and Benjamin L. Hoffman, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, for Appellee.

          Ray, C.J.

         Joshua Phillips appeals his sentence of life in prison for a first-degree murder he committed when he was a juvenile. We affirm on all issues and write only to address his arguments that his sentence and the statutory scheme he was sentenced under violate the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 17 of the Florida Constitution.


         Phillips was fourteen years old when he brutally killed an eight-year-old girl who lived next door to him. In 1999, a jury convicted him of first-degree murder, and the trial court sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole. In affirming the conviction and sentence, the Second District Court of Appeal[*]outlined the relevant facts of Phillips' case:

Maddie Clifton, eight years of age, came home from school at 4:30 p.m. on November 3, 1998, practiced her piano, and then went outside to play. She first went to the yard of a sixteen-year-old neighbor and then returned to her own yard. The neighbor's grandmother could see Maddie in her driveway and she also saw Joshua Phillips "creeping up" on Maddie. She watched them for a few moments but went back into her home after deciding that what she saw was nothing more than two kids playing together. By 6:20 p.m. Maddie's mother called her children to dinner, and when Maddie did not appear, Mrs. Clifton asked some of the neighbors to look for her daughter, but no one could find her. By 6:33 p.m. Mrs. Clifton called 911.
That evening several of the neighborhood children, including Joshua, took part in a search. Witnesses to that event described Joshua as "acting normal" but looking as if he had just taken a shower. The next day a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office detective spoke with Joshua about Maddie, who stated that he had seen Maddie the day before but had not played with her. He was not supposed to play with her because of their age difference. Police searched the Phillips' storage shed and car after Joshua's father arrived home, but they found nothing. A couple of days later, another homicide detective went to the Phillips' home when only Joshua was present and interviewed Joshua as he sat on the bed in his room.
Maddie's body was not discovered until November 10, 1998, when Joshua's mother, upset and crying, flagged down uniformed officers who were doing investigations in the neighborhood. The officers and Mrs. Phillips went to Joshua's room and opened the door. There they saw two small feet with white socks sticking out from the bottom of Joshua's waterbed, along with liquid coming from underneath the bed and tape on the floor. A strong odor emanated from the room, which was immediately sealed as a crime scene. One of the detectives then picked up Joshua at school and took him to the police station.
When Joshua's room was searched the police found several types of air fresheners, rolls of tape, a baseball bat hidden behind a dresser, and a Leatherman knife tool. Maddie's body was under the waterbed with her shirt pulled up and her panties beneath her.
Joshua confessed to killing Maddie. He claimed that the two were playing with a baseball in his back yard when he hit the ball very hard and accidentally struck her near the left eye. She began to cry and holler, so Joshua, fearful that his father would be angry at him for playing with the younger girl, took her into his room. She was bleeding from the gash and crying loudly, and to keep his father from discovering her he struck Maddie once or twice in the head. She whimpered, and when she began to moan more loudly he took his knife and cut her throat. Then he concealed her body by prying off the side of his waterbed and pushing Maddie underneath. Joshua's father had come home by this time, and, realizing that Maddie's labored breathing was loud enough for his father to hear in another room, Joshua pulled the child out and stabbed her in her lungs so that she would stop breathing. He explained that her shorts and underwear came off when he dragged her into his room and that her shoes came off when he shoved her under the bed the second time. All of this happened because Joshua was afraid of getting in trouble.
The State's medical expert testified that Maddie had suffered three separate attacks. She was struck three times on her forehead and top of her head, receiving wounds that would have been fatal about thirty minutes after infliction. Her neck wounds perforated her windpipe, causing her to bleed to death or drown in her own blood. Nine stab wounds to her chest and abdomen were inflicted when she was already dead. However, Maddie's hand clutched a ...

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