Press Centre

Children Who Kill

  • Episode: 

    1 of 1

  • Title: 

    Children Who Kill with Susanna Reid
  • Transmission (TX): 

    Thu 15 Feb 2018
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    9.00pm - 10.00pm
  • Week: 

    Week 07 2018 : Sat 10 Feb - Fri 16 Feb
  • Channel: 

  • Status: 

Children Who Kill with Susanna Reid
“I think I deserve a chance [of freedom]. I don’t think it’s too much to ask. I think I deserve it.” - Joshua Phillips, who killed eight-year-old Maddie Clifton aged 14
“Life in prison, without parole, that’s absolutely…  I mean what he did to her, and she doesn’t get to walk the face of the earth again. Why should he?” - Jessica Clifton, Maddie’s sister
In this documentary for ITV’s Crime & Punishment season, Susanna Reid goes behind bars in America to meet murder convicts who killed when they were children - to investigate whether they should ever be freed.
The USA is unique in giving so-called ‘death in prison’ sentences to juveniles who kill. But in 2016 the American Supreme Court ruled such sentences are ‘unconstitutional’ and it is cruel and unusual punishment to send a child to die behind bars - allowing murderers to have their sentences re-examined with the potential chance of one day being paroled.
With exclusive access to high-profile cases involving children who kill, including a murderer speaking for the first time since he discovered he has the right to have his sentence reviewed, this documentary provides a vivid insight into a justice system divided by strong opinions over what the correct punishment should be for this most heinous of crimes.
Susanna meets Joshua Phillips, whose case gripped America 20 years ago when at the age of 14 he murdered his his eight-year-old friend and neighbour Maddie Clifton before concealing her body for six days. Although still a child, Joshua's crime was ruled so heinous he was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of release. 
As he prepares for his sentencing review, he meets Susanna and in a candid interview discusses his early life, the murder, his life in prison, and his thoughts about potentially being paroled.
Susanna meets Joshua’s mother Melissa, who tells that her family has been destroyed by the murder, and she learns a disturbing detail about his crime.
Melissa says: “As a parent, as a mother, when something like this happens you start to second-guess yourself - you start to think was I too lenient, was I too strict, what did I miss?”
Susanna discovers the change to America's hardline approach to juvenile crime is extremely unpopular with the families of the victims. The mother and sister of Maddie Clifton are battling hard to keep Joshua locked up for life.
Maddie’s mother Sheila says: "Should he ever be released from prison, I pray I shall no longer be on this earth."
Susanna also goes behind bars to meet Morgan Leppert, described as ‘the blue-eyed devil’ after brutally murdering a disabled man aged 15. Despite the fact she was a child who acted as an accomplice to her 23-year-old boyfriend, she received the same punishment - life without parole.
After eight years in jail, when Susanna asks her what she would do if she was never released, Morgan says: “I would probably kill myself, seriously. No hope, the hope would be gone. I would end it.”
Susanna also visits one of the jurors who took the monumental decision to lock the girl up for life. He recounts the details of Morgan's horrific crime to explain his belief that she is ‘evil’ and should never be released.  
As Joshua Philipps steps into the dock 19 years after his original trial, Susanna is present in court, hoping to find out whether or not the judge believes that even a child who has committed the most horrific of crimes deserves a second chance.