Jonchuck murder trial pauses for psychological evaluation

Prosecutors spent Tuesday trying to poke holes in John Jonchuck's insanity defense. But they were interrupted by a surprise request from his defense attorneys, who had grown concerned about his current mental state.

Jonchuck is the young father who dropped his daughter Phoebe off the Dick Misener Bridge back in 2015 and has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. In the years since the crime, experts for both sides have disagreed about his mental state and his competency for trial.

Last year, doctors pronounced him ready to face a jury, and his trial began two weeks ago. But defense attorneys said Tuesday that they were again concerned about Jonchuck's mental condition, claiming he has appeared confused and out of touch. They asked the judge to have him re-evaluated, and she agreed to pause the proceedings.

It took Dr. Jill Poorman, the court psychologist, less than an hour to decide Jonchuck was still competent to stand trial. The judge scheduled the trial to pick back up tomorrow afternoon pending a second re-evaluation.

Earlier, Tuesday started with the prosecution cross-examining defense witness Dr. Scot Machlus, the expert who said he thinks Jonchuck was insane at the time of the crime.

Prosecutors methodically worked through the some of that statements Jonchuck made and actions that he took, trying to build their case for jurors that Jonchuck acted with malicious intent.  As a possible motive, they are working to show that Jonchuck was feuding with his mother and also with Phoebe’s mother at the time.

Prosecutors tried to make a point that just because you have a mental illness – does not necessarily mean you are insane. 

“In your opinion, did Mr. Jonchuck, the defendant in this case, know what he was doing when he dropped Phoebe off the bridge?” assistant state attorney Paul Bolan asked Machlus.

“Factually, the information that I have is that he did have that information, he did have that appreciation,” Machlus replied.

“So you believe he understood he was killing Phoebe by throwing her off the bridge?” Bolan continued.

“No, for that, there is mixed messages,” Machlus offered. “Because there is mixed information about that, if not able to give an opinion.”

“So you don't know if he understood the consequences or not?” Bolan added.

“Correct,” Machlus replied.

Another important piece of discussion the prosecution brought up was something Jonchuck said when he was 12 years old and had gotten in trouble for smoking pot.   He told his friend something to the effect of, if he ever got in trouble one day, he would claim insanity. 

While that was 20 years ago, that seed may now be planted in jurors’ minds and it’s something they’ll have to think about when it comes time to deliberate.