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Jonchuck Trial Temporarily On Hold

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
The trial of John Jonchuck, who's accused of throwing his daughter from a Tampa Bay bridge, is on hold while psychologists determine his competency to stand trial. His attorneys claimed in court Tuesday Jonchuck is hearing voices.

The trial of a Pinellas County man accused of killing his five-year-old daughter by throwing her off a bridge is temporarily on hold.

John Jonchuck's lawyers claimed Tuesday that their client has been suffering from “auditory hallucinations” – hearing voices in court and in jail the last few days.

After meeting with Jonchuck Tuesday afternoon, court psychologist Jill Poorman said she felt he was competent to continue standing trial.

“But given that this is a significant charge, first-degree murder, and obviously a closely-watched case, the defense pushed for and the judge called in another psychologist (Tampa’s Richard Cipriano), who will do another evaluation Wednesday morning to determine if Jonchuck is competent to continue to stand trial,” said reporter Zack Sampson, who has been covering the trial for the Tampa Bay Times.

Jurors have been told to expect testimony to resume at 1 p.m. unless something changes.

Jonchuck’s attorneys said their client has been hearing prosecution lawyers and experts, as well as jurors, say things in court and jail that they didn’t say since before jury selection began last week. Lawyers also say he’s been laughing at inappropriate times – a sign, they claim, that he’s losing touch with reality.

"He's either looking down, maybe scribbling on a pad, sometimes he whispers to his attorneys,” Sampson said. “He's often looking straight ahead, his mouth is slightly agape, but it's been pretty rare for him to demonstrate any significant emotions."

“We have a photographer in the courtroom who has captured images multiple times of Jonchuck smiling or laughing with his attorneys, not really at the proceedings, but after they break, so we have seen him smile,” Sampson added.

He also said it's not clear what will happen if the second expert disagrees with the first about Jonchuck’s competency.

"They could look for a third evaluation, they could hold a competency hearing - I mean, if that happens, it's a little up in the air, but this is a case of probably expecting the unexpected," Sampson said.

Jonchuck is charged with first degree murder for dropping his daughter, Phoebe, from the Dick Misener Bridge in 2015. He’s since been diagnosed by multiple mental health specialists with schizoaffective disorder.

The defense admits Jonchuck killed his daughter, but are using an insanity defense. A jury will determine if he was sane or not at the time of the crime.

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.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.
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