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Four years after he threw his daughter off a bridge, John Jonchuck's murder trial begins

Jonchuck threw his 5-year-old daughter Phoebe off the Dick Misener Bridge in St. Petersburg in 2015. Now, a jury will decide if he's insane or evil.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It's been four years since Phoebe Jonchuck, 5, died after being thrown off the Dick Misener Bridge. 

The man who did it, her father John Jonchuck, begins his murder trial Monday. A jury will decide whether he is insane or evil. 

The defense is set to argue that Jonchuck is not guilty by reason of insanity. Prosecutors aim to see him guilty of murder, which could land him in prison for the rest of his life. A still unanswered question that could come about during this trial: Did Jonchuck know what he was doing was wrong?

For the next month, people in Tampa Bay -- both in and outside the courtroom --will hear grueling details about what happened before, during and after Phoebe's Jan. 8, 2015 death. Here's what you need to know about one of Tampa Bay's most heartbreaking and infamous cases.


Jan. 7, 2015

Around 9 a.m., Jonchuck took Phoebe to family lawyer Genevieve Torres' office in Lutz. He showed up in pajama pants and told Torres he wanted to file paperwork to get full custody of Phoebe. He then started talking in an unknown language and asked Torres to read a Swedish Bible.

He also told her she was God and needed him to follow him to a church to be baptized. When she wouldn't go, he told her to stop the paperwork.

When he left the office with Phoebe, Torres called 911.

Around 11 a.m., Jonchuck drove with Phoebe to St. Paul Catholic Church in Tampa. He met with Father William Swengros and demanded he be baptized. Swengros said he couldn't do that because it takes more time to join and be baptized in the Catholic Church. 

During this time, Torres was talking to Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies, who then arrived at the church to talk to Jonchuck. Deputies decided Jonchuck was not a danger to himself or Phoebe and let him go on with his day.

Around 2 p.m., Torres heard from deputies that they did not find any reason to take Jonchuck into custody. Shortly after, Jonchuck called Torres nearly a dozen times in an hour. She then called the Department of Children and Families hotline.

The person on the other end of the line at DCF told Torres that her worries did not rise to the level for them to accept a report. The hotline employee shelved the report around 3:25 p.m.

Around 8 p.m., Phoebe's grandmother, whom she called Memaw, went to Jonchuck's father's home where he and Phoebe were staying. The grandmother tried to take Phoebe with her, but she wanted to stay with her dad.

Two hours later, Jonchuck loaded Phoebe into his car. 

Jan. 8, 2015

A little after midnight, St. Petersburg Police Officer William Vickers saw Jonchuck's car speeding south on Interstate 275 toward the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Vickers follows Jonchuck through the toll booth and to the Dick Misener Bridge, where Jonchuck pulls over.

Jonchuck gets out of the car, unbuckles Phoebe and drops her off the bridge into Tampa Bay. Phoebe fell 62 feet into the cold water.

Jonchuck then speeds off toward Manatee County and is eventually arrested and charged with murder, assault and fleeing police. 

Around 1 a.m., Phoebe's body was found by Eckerd College Search and Rescue teams.

Later that day, DCF calls for an investigation into how previous cases involving Jonchuck and Phoebe were handled.

Jan. 9, 2015

Jonchuck has been held by police for a mental evaluation. During his first appearance in court, Jonchuck denied the right to a public defender and said he wanted to "leave it in the hands of God."

A judge told Jonchuck that God would not be representing him in this case. Jonchuck agreed to have representation so long as the lawyer was "pure and good and not evil."

Jan. 14, 2015

Phoebe Jonchuck's funeral. Hundreds of people came out for the 5-year-old's funeral at Lake Magdalene United Methodist Church. Family members opted to wear bright colors to the service -- Phoebe's favorites.

Feb. 10, 2015

Jonchuck is found mentally incompetent to stand trial. A judge said two doctors assessed his mental health and determined his incompetence. Prosecutors then request the third evaluation.

Feb. 26, 2015

Jonchuck again found incompetent to stand trial. He's then sent to a mental health facility for treatment.

Feb. 23, 2016

For the third time, Jonchuck is found incompetent to stand trial. The 26-year-old Jonchuck had been receiving mental health treatment for a year.

March 3, 2017

Jonchuck is deemed competent to stand trial, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Aug. 27, 2018

Prosecutors say they won't seek the death penalty against Jonchuck. His trial is expected to start Sept. 24.

Sept. 17, 2018

Jonchuck's trial is postponed after his defense team filed a last-minute motion to exclude a crucial expert witness for the state. Dr. Emily Lazarou is expected to testify that Jonchuck wasn't insane.

The defense said it wanted to call another doctor, Ryan Wagner, to rebut Lazarou's testimony.

Oct. 23, 2018

A judge ruled the state will get a second chance to obtain the testimony of expert witnesses. Prosecutors will be allowed to re-question defense experts, and the defense team will get to re-question state experts regarding Jonchuck's sanity.

Dec. 5, 2018

Recently released court documents show Jonchuck saying "voices" told him if "Phoebe didn't die, everybody was going to go to hell."

Now 29, Jonchuck described some of the things he felt and experienced leading up to the night he dropped Phoebe into Tampa Bay. Jonchuck revealed these feelings to Lazarou, the psychiatrist chosen by the state to evaluate his mental state.

Parts of the interviews from October 2017 and May 2018 were detailed in a deposition to Wagoner.

"I still have bad dreams where I feel that she's laying there and I couldn't get her to wake up and she's really not in here," Jonchuck said.

March 14, 2019

Jonchuck appears in court for the first time in years. He was in an orange jail suit and appeared much thinner than he was fours years ago.

A judge denied two motions by the defense. The first was about whether the term "psychopath" could be used during the trial. Judge Chris Hellinger did not rule on the word but said "psychopathy" is allowed.

The second motion was to prevent testimony about hypothermia being a cause in Phoebe's death. 

March 18, 2019

Jonchuck's murder trial begins with jury selection. 

After just a day, we're getting an idea of how complicated this trial will be. The jury selection process has already been time-consuming and tedious in an attempt to narrow the group.

More than 1,000 people were summoned for this trial, but the court is having a challenging time finding people who can commit to a month-long trial and who also don't have prior knowledge of the case.

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