CLEARWATER, Fla. (FOX 13) - Four years ago, prosecutors said a man threw his 5-year-old daughter off the Dick Misener Bridge. Next week, his murder trial begins.
John Jonchuck's case was back in court Monday, with a few days to go before the start of his trial. Attorneys said they are finalizing preparations, some involving how they will be able to describe Jonchuck's mental health.
According to investigators, Jonchuck was seen speeding down the highway by off-duty St. Petersburg officer Drew Vickers. Minutes later, Vickers saw that same vehicle pulled over on the Dick Misener Bridge, which is the approach to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, and Jonchuck was outside of the car.
When Vickers approached him, Jonchuck allegedly pulled his daughter, Phoebe, from the car and threw her over the side of the bridge. She drowned after a 60-foot plunge into Tampa Bay.
"I'm the only witness to a terrible, terrible tragedy," Vickers told reporters in 2015. "So, I have the responsibility to make sure she gets justice. At first it's just shock and the horror of seeing a child die, then anger. It was initially very difficult to talk about it because it made me so angry it brought me to tears."
Vickers will soon get that chance; he's likely to be among the main witnesses for the prosecution. He has said he wants to be Phoebe's voice in court.
"I can't think of a victim other than a child, who needs that voice as much," he said months after her death.
Jonchuck's mental health status has consumed the four years leading up to the trial. Before Phoebe's death, her father told a lawyer he wanted to prove he was the pope. He was also in his pajamas when he was driving around his daughter.
Jonchuck was determined to be incompetent to stand trial until 2017. His defense attorneys are expected to try to prove insanity.
"I love him but I hate what he did," Jonchuck's mother, Michelle, said in 2016, while describing her son's mental stability. "He loved that child and this would not have happened if there were more mental health [resources]. He did get off his meds. That was his fault but if there were more people that had listened that day instead of pushing it off, Phoebe would still be here."
Jonchuck was not in court for his pretrial hearing Monday. His final hearing is scheduled for Thursday. He is expected to attend.