Father who threw 5-year-old daughter off 60-ft bridge plans to plead insanity as trial begins
A man is set to plead insanity after being put on trial for dropping his five-year-old daughter to her death from a Florida bridge four years ago.
Little Phoebe died on January 8, 2015, after her father John Jonchuck, 29, dropped her 62 feet from a bridge in Tampa Bay in plain view of a St. Peterburg police officer who couldn't help but watch the tragedy unfold, Daily Mail reports.
Jonchuck, who goes on trial today, will go to prison for life if convicted of his crimes. While he is charged with first-degree murder, prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.
If his insanity plea is accepted, he would be sent to a psychiatric hospital. However, in order to be eligible for release, he would have to prove he is no longer mentally ill or dangerous, which is unlikely.
Speaking to the Tampa Bay Times, Pinellas County Public Defender Bob Dillinger said there has never been a case wherein a killer was found not guilty by reason of insanity of first-degree murder and eventually released. "He'll be in state prison for the rest of his life, or a state hospital for the rest of his life," Dillinger said.
Jonchuck's attorneys have a monumental task ahead of them considering successful insanity defenses are rare. In order to prove their claims, they must convince the jury that their client's mental illness was so severe that he did not know right from wrong.
According to Jonchuck's family members, he had a long history of mental problems before he took his daughter to the Dick Misener Bridge and had a breakdown. In the hours leading up to Phoebe's death, Jonchuck's divorce lawyer Genevieve Torres feared for the girl's safety and called a state child protection hotline.
During the phone conversation, the Department of Children and Families operator heard that Jonchuck had driven his daughter to three churches that morning — only wearing pajamas. The deranged father allegedly called Torres "God" and asked her to translate his stepmother's century-old Swedish Bible, which he had become obsessed with. According to the attorney, Jonchuck had grown paranoid of late that Phoebe wasn't his offspring.
"He's calling the office every five minutes and saying these religious things and saying the child might not be his — it just really concerns me," Torres told an operator. She added, "It's all craziness and it doesn't make any sense and he's out of his mind."
The operator, who was reportedly inexperienced, learned from Torres that the department had opened an investigation after an earlier caller accused Jonchuck of substance abuse, inadequate supervision, and violence. But the operator did not report the call to authorities assuming Torres was more worried about Jonchuck's safety than his daughter's.
The following night, Officer William Vickers was heading home from his shift in his patrol car when he saw Jonchuck's PT Cruiser race past him. While he immediately started following him, he had no idea Phoebe was inside and was not able to get close enough to read the license plate.
Jonchuck stopped the vehicle as soon as they reached the bridge's crest and got out. Vickers pulled his gun fearing an ambush and stopped behind him, yelling at the father to show his hands. "You have no free will," Jonchuck, who had no weapon, yelled back at the officer.
Just moments later, he grabbed Phoebe from the back seat, held her over the side for a moment before dropping her. Officer Vickers recalls hearing her scream.
While Jonchuck managed to flee the scene, Vickers scrambled down a ladder to a dock below the bridge in a bid to locate Phoebe's body, but in vain. Jonchuck was arrested soon after and a marine rescue boat recovered his daughter's body hours later.