Sunday, December 9, 2007

Mom hopes incarcerated son will be freed

By SHARON COHEN, AP National Writer
Sun Dec 9, 12:40 AM ET

Every month or so, Missy Phillips makes a four-hour drive to visit her son in prison, refusing to accept that his fate has been sealed — and he will die behind bars. Joshua, just 23, is serving a life-without-parole sentence in Florida for a ghastly crime — the bludgeoning and stabbing of his 8-year-old neighbor, Maddie Clifton. He's nearing the end of what could be the first of many decades behind bars.

But his mother doesn't see it that way.

"We talk in terms of when he gets out, not if," Phillips says. "I have to keep some semblance of hope for both of us. I don't know how it's going to happen. I do believe that someday he will walk out of there. I can't go the other way."

Joshua Phillips was just 14 in November 1998 when Maddie, who lived across the street in Jacksonville, disappeared. He joined in the massive search for her. Police were even at his house for routine questioning. About a week later, Missy Phillips made a horrifying discovery: She noticed a wet spot near her son's water bed, pulled aside the frame and saw Maddie's feet.

Police said Joshua Phillips confessed, claiming he beat Maddie with a bat and repeatedly stabbed her in a panic to stop her screams after he accidentally hit her with a baseball. Prosecutors cast doubt on that story.

Phillips says she has repeatedly begged her son for an explanation, but has never received one.

"I used to plead, 'Josh, I found Maddie in our home. I think I deserve to know what happened,' " she says. "He won't discuss it with me. I had to learn how to step back ... and say I may never know."

Phillips, now 52, had done her own soul-searching over the years.

"I think every mother who has a tragedy of this magnitude — certainly early on, you question yourself: Did I miss something? Did I do something wrong?" she says. "Every mother who loves her child feels a responsibility. ... He's told me more than once, 'It's not anything you did or didn't do.' "

A year after the murder, Phillips says she approached Maddie Clifton's mother and they have spoken several times. And when Phillips' husband, Steve, was killed in a car accident in 2000, the girl's mother, Sheila, visited to offer her condolences. "She's a kind person," Phillips says.

Phillips has remarried — she met her British husband after he read about her son's case on the Internet and she has taken his name, though she prefers not to make it public. She says she moved twice to stay anonymous as she presses for a new trial for her son, claiming his attorney was incompetent.

She maintains her son's sentence is excessive.

"They should have some alternative way of dealing with juveniles in serious situations so they don't get their lives thrown away," she says. "That's what the state says — my son's life is worthless. Just throw away the key."

State Attorney Harry Shorstein, who prosecuted Joshua as an adult, says his case — and those of other juvenile lifers — should be reviewed at some point and the possibility of release considered if appropriate.

Phillips tries to be upbeat, but admits her resolve sometimes wavers.

"I'm human," she says. "I have my moments, my worries and my doubts."

As much as her son dominates her thoughts, she says when she sees a little girl with her family, she is haunted by memories of Maddie Clifton.

"Of course, I'm mindful of Maddie not being here," she says. "As close as I am to this tragedy, I can't say I know their pain anymore than they know mine. .. I think of them a lot. I think of Maddie a lot. ... I'll carry this with me until I die."


A teacher said...

This mother is an idiot. What if it was her kid lying bludgened and satabbed in a pool of blood under someone's fing bed? Well, I mean, if it were her son, that would be justice, but if it happened to any other kid... Hell she could be his next victim. She needs to bull her head out of the dark place its stuck in, and hope Florida brings back the needle.

twilite said...

and YOU are a teacher? i certainly hope that you are not in my childs school system, the kind of hatred you have does not justify itself in the classroom, ANY person that says they hope Florida brings back the needle is sick, especially when talking about a child. PLEASE tell me you are not really a teacher. i am so disgusted and sick by your comments i cant even think straight right now, Cussing, hatred, all from someone that supposedly is educating the minds of our youths and some wonder WHY are kids are growing up with skewed values. THANK GOD i am a great parent and my child is full of love and understanding. and realizes that it is only Gods place to judge.
I am still completely sickened by your comments.

granny2young said...

A teacher you say? Oh my goodness. I do hope and pray that you never teach a child of mine. A child is a child and should never be treated as anything other than a child. If this were your child you would feel much differently I promise, but you must remember this is someone's child just as little Maddie was.

Anonymous said...

A Nurse said............

"Teacher" can't even spell so I doubt that person is legit. Probably some dumb kid on here.

God help me, what a horrifying experience this mother went and is going through. I would have freaked if I found what she did.

I'm divided on this issue. Her son took a life and then joined the search for the little girl as if he knew nothing about her death. That shows callous and manipulation. So maybe he does need to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Then again, he was only 14 when this happened and kids make lots and lots of mistakes.

Like I said, I am divided on what should be done with the boy. I feel for the mother though. My own son has been in trouble and I have been through the same feelings this mother has been. Well, some of the feelings anyway. My child didn't kill someone then lie to my face about it.

I'm sorry sorry for the mother. Hang in there and all I can say strong.