In one of the Florida’s most tragic cases in years, a trial is finally set to begin. John Jonchuck, a 27-year-old Tampa man, is charged with killing his 5-year-old daughter by dropping her from the Dick Misener Bridge in early 2015. Since then, Jonchuck’s attorneys have argued that he was not mentally competent to stand trial, but now doctors have determined this to not be the case. After reading the Florida mental hospital’s most recent evaluations of Jonchuck, Pinellas Circuit Judge Chris Helinger told attorneys that he was deemed ready to stand trial.
Jonchuck has been in a state hospital, undergoing treatment since February 2015. Once he is officially found to be competent, he will be face charges for first-degree murder and prosecutors intend to ask for the death penalty.
This case has captivated the community since it began in January 2015. An off-duty police officer first noticed Jonchuck in a white PT Cruiser when he was speeding towards the Misener bridge after midnight. Jonchuck pulled the car to the side of the road and then retrieved his 5-year-old daughter, Pheobe, from the backseat. The officer said he carried her to the edge of the bridge and then dropped her in the water.
Investigation showed that just hours before the murder, Jonchuck had gone to visited a Tampa lawyer. He was dressed in pajamas and had his daughter with him at the time. He claimed to be the Pope and asked to be given a DNA test. The attorney said that Jonchuck asked her to read the Bible to him in Swedish and she called 911.
Police later picked up Jonchuck at a church, but said he didn’t show signs of mental illness when they first took him in. During later interviews with detectives, he made statements like, “My name is God and you shall address me as such.” Jonchuck’s mother told officials that he was schizophrenic and suffered from bipolar disorder and was not taking medication lately.
In the aftermath of the murder, the child’s mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Department of Children and Families. Court records show that a settlement for an estimated $100,000 had been paid to the Michelle Kerr, Pheobe’s mother. Authorities acknowledged that they had failed to help Phoebe in time, by neglecting to do immediate follow-up on calls for alleged abuse.
Tampa wrongful death attorney Christopher Ligori expressed his condolences to the little girl’s remaining family. “Cases like this are devastating for everyone involved,” he said. “When there is a loss of life, it’s always tragic, but it’s so much worse when it’s an innocent child and the tragedy could have been avoided if authorities would have acted on tips in a timely manner.”
If you have a loved one that died due to the negligence of another party, you could also be eligible for compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit. Consult with a Tampa wrongful death attorney to learn more about your legal rights.