Jurors deliberate on man who dropped child off bridge

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — A Florida man who threw his 5-year-old daughter off a Tampa Bay area bridge four years ago knew what he was doing was wrong and should be found guilty of first-degree murder, a prosecutor told jurors Monday during closing arguments of his trial.

But John Jonchuck’s defense attorney told jurors that although her client dropped his daughter, Phoebe, 62 feet (18 meters) 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.”

Jonchuck faces a life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder by jurors who started deliberating Monday afternoon after listening to three weeks of testimony. The panel was released for the night shortly before 7 p.m. and scheduled to return Tuesday morning.

Paul Bolan, an assistant state attorney, told jurors 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.”

Manuele told jurors Johnchuck loved Phoebe more than anything else in the world and there’s no evidence he acted out of “unbridled anger.”

Rather, Manuele said, his delusions led him to believe Phoebe was possessed, caused him to pour salt outside her window to keep spirits away and made him talk about the archangel Michael’s coming.

“At that moment, 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, fearing for the girl’s safety, called a state child protection hotline, according to authorities.

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.”