Man Who Tossed Daughter Off Bridge Asks for New Trial

CLEARWATER—A Florida man found guilty of first-degree murder for dropping his 5-year-old daughter off a bridge four years ago is asking for a new trial.

John Jonchuck was sentenced to life in prison earlier this month, despite arguments from his attorneys that he was legally insane.

No one disputed the 29-year-old Jonchuck dropped his daughter Phoebe 62 feet into Tampa Bay in January 2015, and that he had a long history of mental problems.

“Did he know what he was doing and did he know it was wrong? The answer is clearly yes”

Posted by NTD Television on Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Prosecutors argued that Jonchuck was driven by vengeance and planned to kill his daughter to keep her away from her mother and grandmother.

The Tampa Bay Times reports the motion that was filed Friday argues several decisions made by the trial judge were improper or unfair to Jonchuck.

Insanity Defense

John Jonchuck’s defense attorney told jurors that although her client dropped his daughter, Phoebe, 62 feet into Tampa Bay, he was insane and didn’t know what he was doing.

“We know he had an overwhelming sense of fear,” assistant public defender Jessica Manuele said. “He felt that somebody was after him and Phoebe.”

John Jonchuck, Jessica Manuele
Defense attorneys Jane McNeill, left, and Jessica Manuele react after their client John Jonchuck was found him guilty in Clearwater, Fla., on April 16, 2019. (Scott Keeler/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

Assistant state attorney Paul Bolan told jurors that Jonchuck was motivated by anger over worries that Phoebe’s mother was going to take the girl away from him and his own mother’s doting attention to her granddaughter when she had been inattentive to him growing up.

Jonchuck’s act was premediated and his fleeing the scene is proof he knew what he was doing was wrong, Bolan said.

“It was rage that drove him to it on top of that bridge,” Bolan said. “Did he know what he was doing, and did he know it was wrong? The answer is clearly yes.”

But assistant public defender Jessica Manuele told jurors Jonchuck loved Phoebe more than anything else in the world and that there’s no evidence he acted out of “unbridled anger.”

His delusions led him to believe Phoebe was possessed and that the archangel, Michael, was coming, Manuele said. He poured salt outside her window to keep spirits away, she said.

At the moment he threw her off the bridge, “he thought he was protecting his daughter,” Manuele said. “It will never make sense because it’s insanity.”

Twelve hours before Phoebe’s death, Jonchuck’s divorce lawyer, Genevieve Torres, called a state child protection hotline, fearing for the girl’s safety, authorities said.

John Jonchuck 3
Defendant John Jonchuck hugs his attorney Jessica Manuele after a jury found him guilty in Clearwater, Fla., on April 16, 2019. (Scott Keeler/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

Torres told the Department of Children and Families operator that Jonchuck had driven to three churches in his pajamas with Phoebe in tow that morning, called Torres “God” and asked her to translate his stepmother’s century-old Swedish Bible, which he carried and had become obsessed with. Jonchuck was also paranoid that Phoebe wasn’t his child, Torres said.

But the operator thought the attorney was more worried about Jonchuck’s safety than the girl’s and did not report the call to authorities, they said.

Just after midnight the next day, Jonchuck’s PT Cruiser raced past officer William Vickers, who was heading home from a shift in his patrol car. He started following Jonchuck, but never got close enough to read the license plate and didn’t know Phoebe was inside, authorities have said.

NTD Photo
Defendant John Jonchuck is directed by a Pinellas County Sheriff deputy to the finger print area after a jury found him guilty in Clearwater, Fla., on April 16, 2019. (Scott Keeler/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

As they reached the bridge’s crest, Jonchuck stopped and got out. Vickers, fearing an ambush, stopped behind him, pulled his gun and yelled at Jonchuck to show his hands. He saw no weapon.

Jonchuck yelled at the officer, “You have no free will.” He grabbed Phoebe from the back seat, held her over the side momentarily and then dropped her, according to police accounts.

Jonchuck drove off but was soon arrested. Vickers scrambled down a ladder to a dock below the bridge but couldn’t see Phoebe in the dark water. A marine rescue boat was summoned, and her body was found hours later.