LARGO, Fla. (FOX 13) - Four years after the crime that horrified the Tampa Bay area, John Jonchuck was convicted of first-degree murder for throwing his young daughter to her death from a bridge.
It took jurors about a day to deliberate, ultimately rejecting Jonchuck’s claims that he was insane at the time of the crime. He sat silently as the verdict was read Tuesday afternoon, then hugged his attorneys.
It was back in January of 2015 when Jonchuck, then 25, pulled his PT Cruiser over along the Dick Misener Bridge, not far from the Sunshine Skyway. With a St. Petersburg police officer just out of reach, Jonchuck grabbed 5-year-old Phoebe from the car and threw her over the side of the span.
She drowned after the 60-foot drop into the chilly waters of Tampa Bay.
After years of legal hearings over his mental competency, Jonchuck’s murder trial finally began last month. His attorneys did not dispute the crime; instead, they argued that he believed he had to murder his daughter to save the world.
"At that moment, he thought he was protecting his daughter," assistant public defender Jessica Manuele told jurors during closing arguments. "It will never make sense because it's insanity."
Prosecutors, though, suggested that Jonchuck knew what he was doing that night and killed Phoebe to inflict pain on those who had hurt him, including Phoebe’s mother and his own mother, who doted on the brown-haired girl with the big smile.
"It was rage that drove him to it on top of that bridge," assistant state attorney Paul Bolan insisted. "Did he know what he was doing and did he know it was wrong? The answer is clearly yes."
After hearing days of testimony from family members, doctors, and even the officer who witnessed the crime, jurors rejected Jonchuck’s claim of insanity.
The State Attorney’s Office previously said they would not pursue the death penalty in the case. He will serve an automatic life sentence in prison.