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Courts / Law

Man Who Dropped Daughter Off St. Petersburg Bridge Claims Insanity

Jurors in the John Jonchuck trial on Monday began debating whether he was insane or not when he threw his daughter off a Tampa Bay area bridge four years ago.
Pinellas County Jail
Opening arguments in the trial of John Jonchuck, who threw his daughter off a bridge in Jan. 2015, took place Monday in Clearwater.

A murder trial is moving forward for a man who threw his 5-year-old daughter off a Tampa Bay area bridge. 

Prosecutors made opening statements Monday afternoon at the Pinellas County Courthouse. It took a week for lawyers to agree on 12 jurors and four alternates to decide the fate of 29-year-old John Jonchuck.

Zach Sampson, who is covering the trial for the Tampa Bay Times, said no one disputes that Jonchuck dropped his daughter Phoebe 62 feet into Tampa Bay on Jan. 8, 2015.

"The prosecution is essentially laying out, 'This is what happened. He was sane while he did it. And we will prove to you he was sane while he did it,'" he said.

At the same time, Jonchuck's lawyers are using an insanity defense.

"The defense does not plan to dispute that Jonchuck killed Phoebe. What they plan to dispute is that he knew what he was doing was wrong when he did it. That is the crux of a not guilty by reason of insanity defense which is what is going on in this case," said Sampson.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Jonchuck will face a sentence of life in prison. If acquitted, he will likely spend the rest of his life in a state-run mental health institution.

The first witness Monday was police officer William Vickers, who saw Jonchuck drop his daughter over the edge of the Dick Misener Bridge.

The trial is expected to last about a month.