Behind The Facade

His Teachers Remember A 'Silly' Boy

In the aftermath of the crime, the Cliftons mourned for their daughter. In a different way, the Phillips mourned for their son.

They had tried to raise their son to be a good person, and now he was accused of murder. His parents said that Josh seemed completely normal. His half brother Dan describes Josh as a "happy kid."

"He likes to read; he likes to work on the computers; and he likes to spend time with us," says Missy Phillips.

"There's very few times that we ever did anything that Josh didn't do with us," she says.

Even Jessie Clifton, Maddie's older sister, says that Josh seemed to be a "pretty decent kid." Father Steve Clifton says that Maddie liked to play with Josh. But he also calls Josh a "monster" for killing his daughter.

At A. Philip Randolph Academies of Technology, where Josh was a ninth grader, he was not a problem student. His teachers say he didn't stick out at all. "I don't know the monster; I knew the silly little boy in my class," says one, Edwina Harris.

She says that he wasn't a loner and that other kids liked him. "He was funny," Harris says. "He made them laugh."

Despite this, Josh was tried as an adult for Maddie's murder, a fact that makes his father angry.

"To put any 14-year-old, not only mine, but any 14-year-old in prison for the rest of their lives, that's just ludicrous," he said before the trial.

Steve and Missy Phillips hoped that Josh would be convicted of second-degree murder, or even manslaughter. If convicted of those charges, he would be eligible for release while still young.

To help bolster Josh's case, his attorney hired a psychologist to see if Josh had any hidden problems. Josh told the psychologist, Tom Bowery, that he had not been not anxious or depressed at all. He also said that he loved his parents.

"This is not what I would've seen as the typical kind of sociopathic, wanting to kill, wanting to maim, deriving-pleasure-from-the-pain-of-others kind of kid," says Bowery. "I don't think that's true at all."

Josh says that he tried his best to avoid thinking about the murder. "That's one of the reasons I like to read because if I'm reading I can't think about anything else."

Josh did say, however, that he was afraid of his father. "He was very terrified of his father whenever two kinds of circumstances arose," Bowery says of Josh.

"Whenever he was afraid that he had done something wrong or whenever his father was angry at anyone," Bowery adds.

"If I did something wrong," Josh says, "he always had kind of a short temper, and I sometimes I never knew what he'd do." Josh says that fear caused him to panic when he hit Maddie with the ball.

"Looking back on it now, there's some things I did that probably would have handled differently," Steve Phillips says. "I don't know if that would've made any difference."

Another exert, a neurologist hired by Josh's attorney, found that Josh has "bilateral frontal lobe lesions," which can impair judgment as well as cause panic. But the judge didn't allow this evidence to be presented in court.

In July, Josh's trial began. There was a great deal of evidence against him: the baseball bat, the knife and Josh's tennis shoes, stained with Maddie's blood. But the most damning piece was Josh's confession.

In a surprise move criticized by many experienced defense lawyers, Josh's lawyer, Richard Nichols, decided not to call any witnesses. The entire defense was a closing argument.

The jury returned after only two hours with a verdict of first-degree murder, which means that Josh will spend the rest of his life in prison. His family plans to appeal.

There is one more piece of this puzzle, which may shed a little light on the crime. According to prosecutor Harry Shorstein, in the half hour preceding the murder, Josh was looking at violent pornographic Web sites on his home computer.

Shorstein believes that this evidence, ruled inadmissible and not presented at the trial, points to an explanation.

He believes that the photos Josh looked at could have triggered his violence - especially if Josh really did have a brain lesion impairing his judgment.

The Cliftons agree: "I believe had he not access to the materials he had, that Maddie would be sitting here right now," Sheila Clifton says.

Steve Phillips places some of the responsibility for Maddie's murder on the victim herself. If she hadn't come over, he says, none of this would have happened.

Neither family has spoken to the other since the crime. Neither plans to move. "As hard as it is to stay here, it would be just as hard to leave Maddie's house behind," says Steve Clifton.

What would Josh say to Maddie's parents if he could speak to them?

"I'd beg for forgiveness," he says. "That's all I could say; there's nothing else I could say. I guess I'd say I'm sorry but that wouldn't be enough."

Go back to Part 1, "The Search For Maddie".

Produced by David Kohn