A Florida father accused of killing his 5-year-old daughter in 2015 by hurling her off a 430-foot bridge has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity as at the onset of his murder trial on Monday.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that John Jonchuck stopped on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in St. Petersburg amid a high-speed police chase that started in Tampa. He allegedly exited his PT Cruiser and yelled, “You have no free will” to officers before taking his daughter, Phoebe, out the vehicle.
With Phoebe in tow, John allegedly then walked to the guardrail and threw the 5-year-old to her death.
Hours before the murder, police reportedly questioned John regarding his erratic behavior after his attorney expressed concern regarding his mental health. The attorney who alerted police was representing John in an ongoing custody battle, according to People.
The Department of Children and Families was reportedly also aware of John’s alleged behavior—and, 12 hours before Phoebe’s death, had placed a note on his file for a caseworker to address.
“There was nothing in the preceding several years that could have reasonably been interpreted as predictive of such an event,” the agency wrote in a subsequent report on Phoebe’s death, according to the Times.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that Phoebe’s mother, Michelle Kerr, now 30, had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis after her daughter’s birth. John had been arrested for assaulting Kerr when their daughter was 10-months-old and charges were dropped after John agreed to enter counseling. The newspaper reported that Kerr had arrests for various charges—shoplifting, child neglect, and forgery—and was voluntarily committed.
The newspaper wrote that friends and family knew of John’s violent tendencies but believe he’s a “con artist” who’s exaggerating his mental illness to essentially get away with murder.
People reported that John’s mother told police that her son had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and wasn’t taking his medicine. John allegedly told officers he’s God during the first interview after his daughter’s murder.
Citing public court documents, the magazine reported that John claimed he heard voices which instructed him to kill his daughter.
The 29-year-old, who has been in a state mental hospital since the 2015 slaying, was found competent in January 2017 to stand trial for his daughter’s murder.
John is facing the death penalty for his daughter’s murder. Opening statements are scheduled for Monday and the trial is expected to go on for at least a week.
[Featured image: John Jonchuck/Pinellas County jail; Phoebe Jonchuck/WTVT]