1. Breaking News

The trial of John Jonchuck: Why we'll be there every day

Phoebe Jonchuck was 5 years old when her father dropped her from the Dick Misener Bridge on Jan. 8, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Melody Dishman, 2014)
Published Mar. 15

Tampa Bay Times reporter Zack Sampson's dawn tweet on Jan. 8, 2015, read like a gut punch: "A 5-year-old girl died last night in Tampa Bay. Police say her father threw her into the water from an approach to the Skyway. More to come."

The story of Phoebe Jonchuck's death unfolded quickly that morning. A police officer had witnessed the whole thing. Before 5:30 a.m., John Jonchuck walked barefoot, in a white jumpsuit, to face charges of murder, assault, fleeing and eluding. The student search and rescue team at Eckerd College discovered Phoebe's body in the water east of the Dick Misener Bridge. By evening, Mike Carroll, then secretary of the Department of Children and Families, had called for a special investigation of the agency's handling of the case.

On Monday, Jonchuck goes on trial in the death of his daughter. If convicted of first-degree murder, he faces life in prison.

Key players expect a lengthy trial, maybe even a month long.

The Times will be following it closely, with Sampson, Josh Solomon, Lane DeGregory and Scott Keeler in the courtroom. We plan to livestream the trial on and publish daily live blogs chronicling witness testimony and courtroom developments. Follow along at and share your questions in the comments. We'll answer as we go.

Why so much focus on this trial?

First, because of that January morning. We've reported too many times on parents who have killed their children, but Phoebe's death — so public and so heinous — rattled our region and drew national attention.

Four years later, we're still looking for answers.

From what we know, many people had many chances to save Phoebe. But the one person who was supposed to love her the most, who held her life in his hands, let her go. Why?

That's the second part.

We should hear from witnesses that we've never heard from before. The priests Jonchuck and his daughter visited before her death. Other family members. Other evidence.

Maybe some unknowns will be resolved.

Here are four things we want to learn from the Jonchuck trial:

1. How can a man be arrested six times on domestic violence charges and have the Department of Children and Families called on him multiple times over the years, and still have custody of his young daughter?

2. Why didn't the priests or the Department of Children and Families caseworker or sheriff's deputies think Jonchuck was a danger that last day? He was begging for an exorcism, saying he was God, dragging Phoebe around.

3. Where was he going that night? Some friends said he was looking to buy drugs. His mother thought he was going to kill Phoebe's mom. But why would he take Phoebe with him?

4. Why didn't anyone drug test Jonchuck that night? Friends said he frequently used meth and spice, and that often set him into a rage. He was acting strangely after his arrest but was never drug tested.

Jonchuck's defense team will argue he cannot be convicted because he was insane when he killed Phoebe. Doctors will testify to what was going on in his mind.

Ultimately, jurors will decide.

Through it all, we'll be there, giving you a front-row seat to make your own judgment.

Contact Amy Hollyfield at Follow @amy_hollyfield.


  1. Richard Taormino is accused of beating and raping a woman in an abandoned mobile home park, according to St. Petersburg police. [Pinellas County jail] Pinellas County jail
    Richard Taormino, 44, faces three counts of sexual battery with a deadly weapon and one count of kidnapping.
  2. File handout images of Clearwater Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar, left, and City Manager Bill Horne, right. City of Clearwater, City of Clearwater
    “I look back favorably on the many positive strides”
  3. Hillsborough County Commissioner Kimberly Overman is spearheading anti-human trafficking efforts. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
    The new commission is the latest in a string of initiatives aimed at snuffing out human trafficking ahead of upcoming events like WrestleMania in April and the Super Bowl in 2021.
  4. Clearwater Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Dunbar, left, and City Manager Bill Horne, right. City of Clearwater, City of Clearwater
    The move came after three investigations into the department in a little more than a year.
  5. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he will not allow the Tampa Bay Rays to split its season in Montreal. The city and team are once again at an impasse until 2027, when the Trop contract ends and the Rays could move wherever the team wishes. CHRIS URSO  |  Times
    St. Petersburg’s mayor said he won’t give the Rays permission to explore playing in both Tampa Bay and Montreal. The team would become a free agent franchise after 2027.
  6. A man armed with a “large knife,” pictured on the left, was shot and critically wounded by an officer in a confrontation that unfolded Tuesday on a pedestrian bridge overlooking Interstate 275, according to St. Petersburg police. Times | St. Petersburg Police Department
    The officer, Sean Thompson, was placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure.
  7. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, in Cape Canaveral. (Craig Bailey/Florida Today via AP) CRAIG BAILEY/FLORIDA TODAY  |  AP
    The mission will ferry nearly three tons of supplies to the International Space Station.
  8. The Century Oaks estate in Clearwater Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate
    The main house and guest house have a total of 16 bedrooms and 20 bathrooms.
  9. The two candidates in the 2020 race for mayor of Safety Harbor. Left, Joe Ayoub, the incumbent. Right, Tanja Vidovic, a community activist and Tampa firefighter who's challenging Ayoub. Left courtesy of Joe Ayoub. Right, Times
    How best to develop a 21st century Safety Harbor?
  10. North Tampa Behavioral Health in Wesley Chapel JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Regulators also found widespread problems with patient care after a Tampa Bay Times investigation into the facility