CLEARWATER, Fla. (KTLA/AP) -- A Florida jury on Tuesday found a man guilty of first-degree murder for dropping his 5-year-old daughter off a bridge four years ago, despite arguments from his attorneys that he was insane and thought his actions would actually save her. He was automatically sentenced to life in prison.
Jurors in Clearwater, Florida, deliberated for about seven hours over two days before convicting John Jonchuck, whom prosecutors portrayed as a vengeful man who planned to kill his daughter to keep her away from her mother and grandmother.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that no one from Jonchuck’s family was in the courtroom when the verdict was announced. And no friends or relatives spoke on behalf of Phoebe or her father before the sentencing. Jonchuck, who was stoic when the verdict was read, hugged his attorneys and said, “Yes, your honor,” when asked if he understood that the verdict carries an automatic life sentence. He was then fingerprinted and taken out of the courtroom by bailiffs.
Jonchuck’s lawyers had asked the judge to delay sentencing for a week because they have some issues to check. But when they failed to provide a reason, Judge Chris Helinger proceeded with the sentencing.
“I am satisfied that justice was done,” the newspaper quoted Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe as saying. “My immediate reaction is killing children doesn’t make one a very sympathetic character.”
Twelve hours before Phoebe’s death, Jonchuck’s divorce lawyer, Genevieve Torres, called a state child protection hotline, fearing for the girl’s safety, authorities said.
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” and asked her to translate his stepmother’s century-old Swedish Bible, which he carried and had become obsessed with. Jonchuck was also paranoid that Phoebe wasn’t his child, Torres said.
But the operator thought the attorney was more worried about Jonchuck’s safety than the girl’s and did not report the call to authorities, they said.