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The Trial of John Jonchuck Day 7: Watch prosecutors establish their case

State attorneys are calling more witnesses to testify about what they saw the night Phoebe died.

JOSH AND CLAIRE (5:53 p.m.)

With that, the judge ends the day. She tells the jurors to be ready for a 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. day tomorrow.

As Jonchuck was leaving, he addressed his defense attorneys.

He nudged Williams. “Greg,” he said, shaking his hand. “Thank you, Greg.”

He waved at McNeill: “Thanks, Jane, have a good night.”

Thanks for following our blog today and come back tomorrow.

ZACK (5:49 p.m.)

Williams speaks quietly and slowly. He peers over his glasses at Harper, questioning him about minute details of the investigation.

In between questions, he pauses to review notes. Suddenly he stops, asks Helinger for a bench conference.

When they end the bench conference, Williams apparently has no further questions. Harper walks off the stand.

Helinger tells the jurors they’re done for the day. They look eager to leave, swiveling in chairs, yawning, stretching out.

CLAIRE AND ZACK (5:46 p.m.)

Harper interviewed Officers Sousa, Price and Vickers at the police station. Two of them helped arrest Jonchuck, and Vickers witnessed Jonchuck drop Phoebe.

Jonchuck is sitting as he has been for most of the day, looking in front of him, none of the emotion displayed when his mother was on the stand.

Helinger asks if jurors need a bathroom break. They shake their heads no. She promised them they’ll be out of here by 6.

Bolan brings up a new exhibit to Harper. It’s instruction forms for witnesses who are picking suspects out of photo lineups. Harper watched as Officer Vickers followed those instructions to identify Jonchuck, who was in photo No. 4.

“He stated, ‘That’s him,’” Harper says.

Bolan wraps up his direct examination. Public defender Greg Williams handles cross.

St. Petersburg police officer Troy Harper testifies late Tuesday. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
ZACK (5:39 p.m.)

St. Petersburg Police Officer Troy Harper is the next witness — he’s wearing his blue uniform. Harper has been a police officer for 18 years. He works downtown on the day shift.

The night Phoebe died he was a homicide detective. He addresses the jury with his arm up on the stand, conversationally, looking their way.

He was assisting Miller in the case.

He picked up Miller at the station and arrived at the Dick Misener Bridge about 1:40 a.m.

JOSH AND ZACK (5:36 p.m.)

Zack briefly spoke to Michele Jonchuck in the courthouse hallway after she testified. She wore a pendant with a digital replication of Phoebe’s hand print, scanned after she was recovered from the water. Only called to testify about Phoebe’s fear of water and ability to swim, Michele still has so many unanswered questions. And she still appears to love her son.

READ THE STORY HERE: John Jonchuck’s mother testifies as her son stands trial for her granddaughter’s murder

Michele Jonchuck testified Tuesday in the murder trial of her son, accused of killing her granddaughter, Phoebe Jonchuck. A yellow butterfly necklace dangled from her neck. Phoebe loved butterflies. Next to it was a small pendant, with a handprint etched into the metal. That, Michele said, was Phoebe’s hand. They had made a digital scan after her body was pulled from Tampa Bay. (ZACHARY T. SAMPSON | Times)

Now Manuele is challenging Miller on his investigation, asking why he didn’t collect certain information, such as times of missed calls on people’s phones, or text messages from Dishman.

“Didn’t even bother to ask her to collect those text messages, did you?” she asks.

“Objection, that’s argumentative,” Bolan says.

Manuele keeps pressing, and the “argumentative” objection comes up at least once again.

Miller: “I would assume I asked for text messages but I can’t answer that question.” He also can’t remember if he read text messages. We’re talking about several phones and communication platforms here, including Facebook messages, so it gets a little muddled. Manuele’s points is that she believes Miller missed chances to collect important phone information from witnesses that would have painted a fuller picture of Jonchuck’s state of mind.

For example, he also could have taken pictures of the salt around Jonchuck’s house, but didn’t.

Some jurors are taking notes, others just watching the banter. Jonchuck is sitting upright, watching the police officer.

On redirect, Bolan distances Miller from some of the evidence flubs, like a phone missing from a property log — which Miller isn’t responsible for.

Several jurors are leaning their heads on their hands or touching their faces after a long day.

Miller and Bolan walk through a call log. Bolan asks Miller to articulate the details of a series of sequential calls — from the night before Phoebe’s death. It also includes some strange calls to an 805 number. That’s the number Jonchuck’s phone called after he was arrested and separated from the device. The 805 number doesn’t work, and Miller says he neither he nor his colleagues understand what it is — maybe to a voicemail system.

That area code is for San Louis Obispo and Santa Barbara, Calif.

Most of the calls from the hours before Phoebe died are to and from Michele Jonchuck, John’s mother, some lasting only a few seconds.

The defense has no further questions. Miller leaves.


Manuele is still picking apart the phone evidence.

She points out that the phone records reflect Jonchuck’s phone was still placing calls hours after he was taken into custody. He wouldn’t have had access to his phone by then. The implication, we think, is that maybe Jonchuck’s phone was malfunctioning.

She also asks about the messages Jonchuck was sending to Noemi the night before Phoebe’s death. He was texting with Melody Dishman, too.

Manuele drills down on the police’s non-collection of phone records, including texts between Jonchuck and both women. The available evidence includes screenshots of texts and data collected from Jonchuck’s phone, which Manuele indicated could be faulty. She asks Miller why he didn’t subpoena for records, and he said because phone companies don’t provide the content of text messages. But at least having timestamps that would show that he was looking at all available messages, she says.

“I did the best I could,” Miller says.

“The best you could, you agree,” Manuele says, “would be to subpoena the records from the phone company?”

She continues: “Fair to say the jury will never know what was in that cell phone?”

“At this time, yes,” Miller concedes. “But technology does change.”

The jury is following this pretty raptly, darting eyes between Manuele and Miller as they go back and forth.

Josh: I would think this line of questioning -- basically attacking Miller’s investigative techniques and thoroughness -- would go toward sowing doubt if the question here were whether or not Jonchuck committed the act. But the defense has the burden of proving insanity. The lack of evidence doesn’t do anything for their case of proving Jonchuck was insane at the time.

It’s also the most we’ve seen either side object to any lines of questioning. It’s clear this is among the most contentious parts of the proceedings so far.

CLAIRE AND JOSH (4:48 p.m.)

Manuele is up, cross-examining Sgt. Miller. She wants to talk about the phone records.

“You indicated that there was nothing significant in those phone records, right?” she asks. “You observed in those phone records that John started calling the church at 1:30 in the morning on January seventh?”

She asks about calls to Noemi, and asks how many times he called the attorney’s office that day. Miller doesn’t know who some of the numbers belong to.

“So you don’t know,” Manuele says. “Did you notice that John called Fox 13 that day?”

“No I did not,” Miller says.

“Did you notice that he called the Social Security Office that day?”

“No I did not,” Miller says.

“You know how many other times John called St. Paul’s that day?”

Miller explains: “I looked for numbers I had for people around him.”

Manuele asks why Jonchuck’s phone wasn’t entered into evidence. It was, Miller said. But the evidence log doesn’t reflect that, she points out.

Manuele seems to be trying to characterize Miller as sloppy and unreliable.

Background on Miller: In 2014 Miller was awarded St. Petersburg police’s top honor, the Ned March/Bud Purdy Award. When issuing the award, the department called Miller “among the greatest homicide investigators" in department history for his “unrelenting investigative techniques.”

St. Petersburg Police Sgt. Kenny Miller testifies on Tuesday. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
JOSH (4:27 p.m.)

While Sgt. Miller is testifying, catch up on our previous coverage:

John Jonchuck trial begins with competing narratives over vengeance and insanity

Timeline and who’s who

The trial of John Jonchuck comes down to one question: Evil or insane?

The Long Fall of Phoebe Jonchuck

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

CLAIRE (4:24 p.m.)

On direct, Bolan has Miller walk through details we’ve heard before today, such as the Social Security letter and the big Bible with Swedish lettering.

Miller ordered a photo pack to be assembled, to show to Officer Vickers in order to identify Jonchuck.

He also ordered that officers notify Phoebe’s family of her death.

Miller interviewed people in Jonchuck’s circle, including:

  • Genevieve Torres, his attorney, by phone
  • Jonchuck’s parents, Michele and John
  • Jonchuck’s uncles
  • Phoebe’s mother, Michelle Kerr, who also provided text messages between herself and John
  • Noemi Bresnahan, a friend of Jonchuck’s, whom he had tried to visit the night of Phoebe’s death
  • Tara Velez, witness in Oakwood apartments who lived near Noemi
  • Melody Dishman, who provided voicemails that Jonchuck had left on her phone
  • Valerie Mallory

Plus at least two others whose names we missed.

When he went to the home where Jonchuck was living on Lauber Way near Tampa International Airport, he noticed salt poured around the house, including around the door to Phoebe’s room.

He sought other evidence, such as footage from various spots Jonchuck visited that day, like from the toll plaza on the Skyway Bridge.

With that, Bolan ends his direct examination of Miller.

CLAIRE AND JOSH (4:14 p.m.)

The video must have been edited, because immediately after that previous officer leaves the room, Miller appears and begins asking Jonchuck questions. He starts off by saying: “John, I understand that you’re concerned about your daughter. John. John? John, did you ask the deputies how your daughter was doing?”

Jonchuck says yes. They move into basics like addresses, prescription drugs (Jonchuck says he’s not on those, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.) Jonchuck says the last grade of school he went to was eighth.

After the intense emotional moment that was Michele Jonchuck’s appearance, this feels more procedural. Jurors are back to following along on transcripts.

In the video, Miller reads Jonchuck his Miranda rights. “Do you understand you have the right to remain silent? Do you understand anything you say can and will be used against you in court? Do you understand you have the right to an attorney?”

To each question, Jonchuck answers: “Yes.”

“It’s totally up to you,” Miller says. “Do you want to talk to us?”

“No,” Jonchuck says.

“OK,” Miller says.

Despite Jonchuck saying he doesn’t want to talk, he starts talking: “This has been going on for a couple days.”

Miller asks what Jonchuck wants to get off of his chest, really encouraging Jonchuck to talk about the events of the evening, even though Jonchuck had asked to talk about it tomorrow.

“Today I went to the Catholic…” Jonchuck says, trailing off. He says he had had custody of Phoebe for two years and mentions a restraining order. Then he brings up a much-discussed Thanksgiving dinner at Denny’s, involving Phoebe’s mom, when the custody issue surfaced. Then he pauses.

“There’s so much,” Jonchuck says. His thoughts come out jumbled.

“Something is not right. People are coming in here. I’ve never said anything about Michael.” It is entirely unclear to us what he’s talking about right now in the video.

“People start coming inside of the police car, in the back, and start telling me… it’s insane.

Alone in the interrogation room, he says, “I’m being manipulated. That’s what’s going on. Conspiracy, conspiracy, conspiracy.”

The video ends and prosecutor Paul Bolan begins questioning Miller.

CLAIRE AND JOSH (4:05 p.m.)

This appears to be a continuation of the video jurors were watching earlier. There’s the familiar image of John facedown, arm sprawled out, on the interrogation table.

“Where’s the detective that’s supposed to be speaking with me?” Jonchuck calls out harshly.

An officer enters the interrogation room. It’s unclear if this is Miller or an unknown deputy from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

“I just want to go to bed, I don’t want to talk to anybody,” Jonchuck says in the video. “And I don’t have to. ... Can I just be done with or whatever?”

An officer says that he personally can’t make that call.

JOSH AND CLAIRE (3:58 p.m.)

Sgt. Kenny Miller is the next witness. He’s been a cop for 18 years. He was the lead homicide detective on Phoebe’s case.

He says he’s been involved in more than 200 homicide investigations, the lead detective in about 40 of them.

He was contacted the morning of Jan. 8, 2015, at about 1 a.m., about Phoebe’s case. He picked up his partner and headed to the Dick Misener Bridge.

Both sides of the bridge -- northbound and southbound I-275 -- were blocked off. The Pinellas County helicopter was flying east of the bridge scanning the water with its spotlight. He could see two boats.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Eckerd College were both involved in the search and rescue of Phoebe.

At 1:31 a.m., the Eckerd team found Phoebe near the bridge.

He responded to the marina near Maximo Park. Officers and medical personnel were administering CPR.

The officer says he wanted to look at Phoebe, but it wasn’t easy while other officers were “doing their life-saving measures.”

He describes her: She was wet. Pale. Had pajamas on. It didn’t look like she was breathing.

On top of the bridge, the wind gusted. It was 42 degrees. The water was 70 to 72 degrees.

“A very very cold night,” Miller says. “The winds were definitely howling that night.”

Miller went to the Manatee sheriff’s office, arriving about 2:30 a.m. He met with Jonchuck, along with another officer.

The state wheels out the TV again, this time to play video of Miller’s conversation with Jonchuck in custody that night. Transcripts of the interview are passed out to the jury.

CLAIRE AND ZACK (3:45 p.m.)

The jury is brought back in. John looks boyish with his fingers pressed to his temples.

Michele Jonchuck hoists herself up in her chair as Ellis gets questioning going again. John Jonchuck watches with his chin in his palms, his fingers curled into loose fists again by his ears.

We’re back to Phoebe’s fear of the water.

“She liked to go swimming and everything, but she wanted you to hold her and she wouldn’t go without floaties or anything,” Michele Jonchuck explains.

“The last six months of her life, were you her primary caregiver? Had she learned to swim at any point during that time?” Ellis asks.


When Michele continues, and says, “She liked somebody to hold onto her, yes,” Johnchuck doesn’t react.

“Was the defendant the father of Phoebe?”

“Yes,” she says. Jonchuck does not move.

That does it for Ellis’s questioning. That was remarkably brief — it’s just been a few minutes.

The defense attorneys huddle and whisper. John looks down, not at them. The jurors look at their notepads, a few stare at the defense table.

John Jonchuck, resting on his elbows, watches his defense team with fists ground into his cheeks.

MawMaw scans the jurors, face by face. More jurors look at the defense table, at the lawyers, at Jonchuck. A deputy at the back of the room slugs water.

Manuele gets up with her legal pad.

“Just one question, judge.”

She walks forward a few steps.

“Phoebe was living with you the last six months of her life?”


“Nothing further.”

Jonchuck walks out slowly, holding her little cup of water.

As she leaves, mother looks at son and mouths, “I love you.”

A photograph of Phoebe Jonchuck is shown to the jury as Michele Jonchuck, Phoebe's grandmother, back looks toward her son John Jonchuck in court on Tuesday. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
ZACK (3:40 p.m.)

The questioning continues without the jurors.

MawMaw: “I suggested that we get her swimming lessons.”

Ellis asks why.“Because I think all kids need to know how to swim,” she responds. What was John’s response? “He agreed with me.”

Michele Jonchuck sniffles every few sentences. She wipes her eyes.

Jonchuck has his head up now. He seems more composed.

Helinger offers MawMaw a cup of water. She accepts.

“Thank you, judge,” she says.

CLAIRE (3:38 p.m.)

Ellis is establishing some basics. Jonchuck drove a PT Cruiser. Phoebe was five.

“Was she afraid of the water?” Ellis asks.

“Yes,” Michele Jonchuck says.

Did the defendant know that?”

“Yes,” she says, while the defense objects, sending us into another bench conference.

At the defense table, McNeill has her arm around the back of John Jonchuck’s chair, almost as if comforting him. He has his balled his hands into loose fists, cradling his chin. He clearly looks distressed to see his mother on the witness stand. She wears highlighter pink, and her sandy gray hair is loose and parted in the middle.

The jury gets sent out of the room, while the judge apologizes. The lawyers need to sort something out. (Earlier in the trial, the defense sought to exclude any testimony related to Phoebe’s fear of the water, while the state believes it speaks to motive.)

This appears to be a proffer. That means the judge listens to the testimony of the witness with the jury out of the courtroom. If the judge finds the testimony to be acceptable, she allows that question to be asked again in front of a jury. Otherwise she does not allow the testimony in front of a jury.

Ellis asks how Michele Johnchuck knew how Phoebe was afraid of the water.

“Because she had to put her arms in the little things that go around—” Michele Johnchuck says.

“Floaties?” Ellis says.

Then, to test out the cross-examination, Manuele asks Michele Jonchuck when Phoebe wore floaties. That turns into custody questions.

Manuele presses MawMaw to determine how long she had Phoebe in her custody. Six months in 2014, until just before she passed away, Michele Jonchuck says.

“And off and on I had her, when...” she trails off. “I mean I had her a lot.”

Jonchuck is looking straight down at the table in front of him, where there are a couple of crumpled brown napkins and two paper cups. MawMaw looks at the empty chairs where the jurors were sitting, the opposite side of the courtroom from her son.

Helinger rules she can testify that in 2013 she was with John and Phoebe swimming and Phoebe had floaties on her arm. But not categorically that Phoebe did not know how to swim. And she can’t speak to John’s knowledge of Phoebe’s swimming ability.


This is a huge moment in this case. On the stand is Michele Jonchuck, 56, the mother of John Jonchuck Jr. Phoebe called her MawMaw.

She says she is currently unemployed.

“Do you know the defendant in this case?” Ellis asks.

“Yes, he is my son.”

Ellis asks if Jonchuck knew the victim.

“She was my granddaughter, my princess angel,” Jonchuck says.

Jonchuck sits staring straight ahead, mouth slightly open, but his brow is furrowed. He drops his forehead into his right hand and looks at the table. MawMaw wipes at her eyes. She looks at the judge, not at her son. “Can I get a tissue,” she asks.

Jonchuck covers his eyes.

He does not look at MawMaw.

Defendant John Jonchuck covers his face and cries when he sees a photograph of his late daughter, Phoebe Jonchuck as his mother Michele Jonchuck testifies on Tuesday. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
ZACK AND CLAIRE (3:20 p.m.)

Manuele grabs her notes and begins her cross-examination of former Hillsborough Deputy Rizzo.

Manuele asks if Rizzo went to the law office, where attorney Torres works, before church.

“No, I did not.”

He got to the church about 11:28 a.m. And by 12:02 p.m. he was inputting contact information and closing out the call, Manuele says.

“He tells you, ‘I’m fine,’ basically?” Manuele asks.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“He says, ‘I used to be bipolar, basically,’” she continues.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Did you just take that at face value?” Manuele asks.

“That’s just what he told me, yes,” Rizzo says, recalling Jonchuck saying he wasn’t bipolar anymore.

“You are not a doctor, correct?” Manuele asks.

“I am not a doctor, no,” Rizzo says.

Rizzo asked Jonchuck if he was hearing voices. Jonchuck told him no. But, in a deposition we’ve read, we know he later told a doctor he was hearing voices before he killed Phoebe. Read about that here.

“Did you ask him whether the Bible was making any noises?” Manuele asks.

“I did not.”

“Did you ask him if the Bible was making Phoebe chant?”

“I did not.”

“He told you that God had spoken to him?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

And that God had given him “newfound clarity?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Manuele’s line of questioning is meant to cast doubt on the deputies’ finding that Jonchuck did not need to be Baker Acted.

Jonchuck is sitting still next to McNeill, watching as Rizzo responds to his attorney.

Manuele goes back to conference with her co-counsel. The jury stares at her, and in the direction of the defense table, where Jonchuck sits with his eyes down as his attorneys talk.

CLAIRE (3:15 p.m.)

The jury comes back into the courtroom. We’re back to former Hillsborough deputy Rizzo. He’s made a lot of Baker Act evaluations, in the hundreds, he tells Ellis.

He went to a church to evaluate Jonchuck with another deputy.

They were there to meet with Jonchuck after his attorney, Genevieve Torres, became concerned about his mental health.

When they arrived, Jonchuck was talking with a priest. When he walked out, they talked with him. He was clean-shaved, in a black long-sleeved shirt and pajama pants. Phoebe wasn’t with him, but was with some church workers elsewhere in the building, Rizzo recalls.

The two deputies talked to Jonchuck in a conference room, saying they were there to check on him after he made some “interesting statements” to his lawyer about the Swedish Bible.

“I always start off with, do you feel like hurting yourself or anyone else.” Did Jonchuck? “No, he did not,” Rizzo says.

Jonchuck told Rizzo he wasn’t having hallucinations or hearing things.

From there, questioning was limited, Rizzo tells jurors now, because in those interviews, officers follow the interviewee’s lead.

Previously, he said, he’d been diagnosed as bipolar, but was no longer on medication.

“Was he calm?” Ellis asks. “Coherent? ... Responsive to questions?”

Rizzo says yes to all.

Jonchuck told Rizzo he was at the church because he wanted to become a member.

“I found that there was no legal reason for a Baker Act, and he was free to leave,” Rizzo says.

Rizzo also spoke to the priest for a brief five minutes, he tells Ellis, but that conversation didn’t change any of his decisions.

When he saw Phoebe, it was as she and her father walked out the church doors hand-in-hand.

“She appeared happy and waving.”

JOSH (3:10 p.m.)

Helinger calls a bench conference, and the five lawyers crowd around to look at her computer. The jurors get antsy. They stand up and start to chit chat. Ultimately, Helinger asks them out of the room, and then asks the Bay News 9 cameraman to return to the bench.

Steve Thompson, the courthouse spokesman, said “the last time this allegation was made, I went downstairs.”

The previous allegation that Thompson is referring to stems from a shot the cameraman captured of an open laptop on the prosecution’s table. The laptop was apparently depicting privileged information, though the images on the laptop were apparently out of focus and not discernible.

The media room is on the first floor of the courthouse -- this courtroom is the fourth floor -- and the television reporters are working in the media room.

The cameraman is operating the pool camera, meaning he is doing so on behalf of all the television stations and the Times. We are all streaming from the same camera.

It’s clear the lawyers and judge are looking at some of the coverage on their computers.

“You can’t see it,” Helinger says, gesturing to an image on a laptop screen. Prosecutor Doug Ellis still doesn’t look pleased.

Meanwhile Rizzo remains the at the witness stand. Jonchuck sits back at the defense table, looking at the lawyers and cameraman before the judge intently. Manuele comes back to her seat and begins flipping through notes. He leans over to talk to her.

McNeill then comes back to the defense table with her laptop. They show Jonchuck the images in question.

The judge, cameraman and Thompson discuss moving the camera to another setting in the courtroom, so that the shot wouldn’t be over the prosecution’s table.

Thompson objects. “We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” he says. This isn’t the first trial to garner media attention, he points out, and cameras in this courtroom are always positioned behind the state in the back left of the courtroom.

Helinger is by now off the bench and walking around.

“I’m going to leave it the way it is, I understand what you’re telling me, that it’s uncomfortable, but so it is,” Helinger tells the prosecutors. She explained: “I can’t limit his ability to take the shot he needs to do the media stuff.”

Ellis relents but adds: “Three strikes you’re out. We’re already at strike four.”

“We’re not at strike four,” Helinger says. “In your mind we’re at strike four.”

She continues: “We’ll try one more time. But we have no definitive information that anybody is reading your stuff or able to read your stuff,” she says to Ellis.

Jonchuck, sitting next to his lead counsel Jessica Manuele, smiles. The pair share a chuckle.

The prosecution leaves briefly to talk to another man, a lawyer who is serving as a technology consultant for the defense. He is monitoring the live stream from the video camera, and he was the one who raised a concern the laptop was visible.

Ellis and Bolan come back into the room, and Bolan closes the laptop on their table.

Circuit Court Judge Chris Helinger, right, talks with Bay New 9 Photojournalist Michael Brantley, left, in court, Tuesday. The discussion centered around camera angles and what could be seen in video images in the courtroom. It was the second time Tuesday the judge stopped the trial to address a problem she perceived with the news coverage. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
JOSH AND CLAIRE (2:50 p.m.)

The state calls a witness out of order. He’s flown in from across the country.

Aaron Rizzo, now with the Portland Police Bureau in Portland, Oregon. Before that, he was a patrol deputy for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

Every time Rizzo answers a question he blinks and keeps his eyes closed for part of his answer.

He explains the Baker Act, a way to take temporary, involuntary custody of someone should they be deemed a threat to themselves or others — and then is cut off.

JOSH AND CLAIRE (2:41 p.m.)

McNeill conducts the cross-examination of Huff. It’s mostly her asking questions he has already answered, likely to stress those points to the jury. First she asks about the Jamaican restaurant where Jonchuck said he worked.

“Mr. Jonchuck wanted to know how you knew where he worked,” McNeill says. Yes, Huff responds. But Jonchuck had just told Huff that’s where he worked.

McNeill asks Huff about Jonchuck’s belief that the owner was stealing recipes from other restaurants.

Then she asks Huff about Jonchuck asking to be released. He didn’t understand he was in custody. “Yes ma’am,” Huff repeats.

Again there’s the image of Jonchuck’s “blank face.” Huff agrees that Jonchuck wasn’t angry with him, though frustration sometimes bled through.

McNeill covers Jonchuck asking if Phoebe was alright, and other takeaways from their fragmented conversations. She asks Huff whether Jonchuck discussed his talk with Father Bill, and Huff says yes. She restates some of Jonchuck’s statements about the Pope.

“He used the word conspiracy, right?” McNeill says. Yes, Huff says.

McNeill finishes her cross-examination, then prosecutor Doug Ellis asks some follow-up questions. Ellis asks if Jonchuck had asked to be let go, or asked to use the bathroom. The bathroom, Huff says.

He brings up the part of the conversation in which Jonchuck asked after Phoebe’s well-being.

“And his response was, ‘She was my daughter?’” Ellis asks.


“Past tense?” Ellis says.


McNeill asks one more question. She wants to parse the bathroom issue. First, she says, Jonchuck asked if he could be let out, then he asked if he could use the bathroom. Yes, Huff says. But when they went, Jonchuck did not actually go to the bathroom.

Huff is ultimately excused.

It’s the same thematic question: Was he lucid, or had he lost it? Did he know he had done something terrible, or was he insane?


Prosecutors resume the video. We heard there might be 30 more minutes this afternoon.

Jonchuck is again alone in the holding room, lying on his right arm. It’s striking how much bigger the man in the orange shirt and hoodie is on screen compared to the much slimmer Jonchuck in a shirt and tie jurors can see in court.

Jail logs show he’s 40 pounds lighter now than the night he killed Phoebe.

In the video, he ruffles something that sounds like a bag of chips. And he burps. He’s waiting. Now his hood is over his head and he’s lying in the crook of his left arm. It looks like he could be asleep. Or bored.

In the courtroom, Manuele holds up her legal pad to Jonchuck, her pen hovering over certain notes. He whispers back to her with what looks like a slight smile.

The video ends, prosecutors wrap and McNeil steps up to begin cross-examination.

Defendant John Jonchuck, left, talks with his attorneys in court Tuesday. SCOTT KEELER | Times
JOSH (2:15 p.m.)

Now everyone is back from lunch. Before Huff reclaims the witness stand and the jailhouse video of Jonchuck resumes, the judge apologized to the jury for her treatment of the photographer this morning. She said she hoped it didn’t make any of the jurors uncomfortable and that she hoped it wouldn’t happen again.

ZACK AND CLAIRE (2:05 p.m.)

We’re back, but off to an odd start. A Deputy Rice was with the jurors over lunch. They had been asking typical questions about their pay or how long the trial might last.

Then one man, Juror 4, asked “What would happen if there was a mistrial? ... Would that be a whole new jury?”

The deputy said yes. Juror 4 asked, “Has anyone ever sabotaged a trial?”

Deputy Rice recalled saying, “That would be extremely bad.” He also said, laughing now, that the juror had asked if the court could provide him with gum.

“They have a coffee pot, they have water, they have high quality chocolate, they have chips and peanuts,” Helinger said. She addressed the lawyers in the courtroom about Juror 4’s sabotage question.

“I think it’s rather concerning but not my call,” the judge said. “Anybody want me to have him in?”

Yes, Manuele speaks for the defense. They want to know if anything in particular happened to prompt that question. Juror 4 comes into the room.

“I was wondering, do they pick another jury?” he said.

“If there was a mistrial you wouldn’t keep on going,” Helinger replies. “But there’s no particular reason you asked those questions?”

“No,” Juror 4 said.

We move on.

ZACK (1:55 p.m.)

While the court was at lunch break, we were allowed to look at evidence already introduced during the trial.

First, that letter dealing with Social Security found with Jonchuck when he was arrested. It was dated Dec. 27, 2014, addressed to John Jonchuck Jr. regarding Phoebe J. Jonchuck. It said he needed to file an accounting report on how he spent or saved the money meant for Phoebe from June 1, 2013 through through May 31, 2014. Jonchuck apparently had not responded to the Social Security Administration’s attempts to get the report.

If he did not reply in 15 days, the letter said, Phoebe’s checks would start getting sent to the agency’s Tampa office. That meant, if he had the money direct deposited into an account, the process would stop and he would need to appear in person to collect the check.

Second, the Bible. It’s huge, with brown binding, and weathered. This is apparently the Swedish Bible Jonchuck had become fascinated by in the days leading up to Phoebe’s death. Read more about it in The Long Fall of Phoebe Jonchuck.

A letter from the Social Security Administration that John Jonchuck had in his possession when he was arrested. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Defendant John Jonchuck's Bible that is in evidence at his murder trial in Pinellas County. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Defendant John Jonchuck's Bible that is in evidence at his murder trial in Pinellas County. SCOTT KEELER | Times
ZACK (12:28 p.m.)

Lunch break called. We’ll be back at 2 p.m. This is a longer break than usual because a witness needs to be deposed over lunch.

Helinger apologizes to the Bay News 9 cameraman saying she did not handle the issue well earlier. He accepts her apology.

“I lost my temper,” Helinger says. “And judges aren’t supposed to do that.”

JOSH AND CLAIRE (12:15 p.m.)

Jonchuck says his boss at the Jamaican restaurant was going to different restaurants to try signature dishes and then try to replicate them. That’s why he was dishonest, Jonchuck tries to explain.

“I can see how that would be dishonest,” the officer says, though he admits he’s never worked in a restaurant and doesn’t know the ethics of the business. The officer is clearly trying to keep Jonchuck talking about anything other than the case, which he made clear was for Detective Harper of the St. Petersburg Police Department.

The discussion pivots to a darker place.

Jonchuck’s voice softens: “Phoebe Jade Jonchuck,” he says. “Is she OK?”

This was a moment public defender Jessica Manuele highlighted in her opening statement to illustrate that Jonchuck wasn’t with it in the moments after he dropped Phoebe.

JOSH AND CLAIRE (12:10 p.m.)

“I asked my supervisor if you could have your bible,” the officer tells Jonchuck from out of the frame.

He explains that it’s up to the detective who is on his way if Jonchuck can have the bible back later.

“I’ll do my best to find out, OK?”

It appears Jonchuck has something to eat in the video. He ruffles something that sounds like a chip bag.

The officer checks in with Jonchuck, who has scratches and cuts on his face. Is he hurt any worse anywhere else? Jonchuck says no.

“Actually, can you call them?” Jonchuck calls out to the officer, who has already left the frame. It’s unclear who Jonchuck is referring to. Perhaps the officer had volunteered to call medical personnel to evaluate him. We didn’t hear that part.

Jurors adjust glasses, lean forward, tap pencils to mouths, make the Thinking Man pose. Some look around the courtroom. Manuele and Jonchuck are huddled close over her laptop.

“Hello?” Jonchuck’s voice bellows on the screen.

“I found out Detective Harper is on his way from St. Pete,” the officer tells Jonchuck. “I’m not sure how long it’s gonna take for him to get here.”

The officer asks Jonchuck if he needs anything else.

“A lot,” Jonchuck responds. The officer asks what specifically. He adds: “We’ll do what we can for you, what’s in our control.”

“It’s almost like, I’m not being weird … this is like a conspiracy," Jonchuck tells the officer. "I went looking for answers. I’ve always had problems growing up, wondering who I was and what my purpose was. Ever since yesterday, and a couple days before…” his voice trails off.

“How do you think you’re different?” the officer asks.

“I don’t know, when I went to the church and I spoke to Father Bill, he told me that I wasn’t going to be ready this Easter, but next Easter I was the Pope, that Francis or whatever is not…”

That he’s not the real pope, the officer asks?

“He’s not,” Jonchuck responds.

Jonchuck says he has Greek heritage. He says when people have asked him what his name is, he could not say his last name. “It was just John.”

When Jonchuck says that, the juror who had been shaking his head earlier starts shaking his head even more vigorously.

Jonchuck stares down at the computer screen in court. Manuele turns to whisper to him.

About half the jurors watch the screen, and the others follow along closely on their transcripts. One fans herself with the packet of paper, then swivels in her chair.

The officer on screen gets Jonchuck talking about his job at a Jamaican cafe. Jonchuck says he doesn’t trust the owner, and that’s why he didn’t go back. He needs help remembering what day it is, and when the last time was that he went to work. He says he only worked there one day.

More head-shaking from the juror in the top row.

JOSH (11:54 a.m.)

Jonchuck returns to the frame in the video and starts talking, voice still dry but a little more conversational.

“I had already met with sheriffs earlier today at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Tampa.”

He is most likely referring to the pair of Hillsborough County deputies he spoke with on Jan. 7. They were called by Jonchuck’s custody lawyer, Genevieve Torres, who had concerns for the safety of Phoebe, who was by Jonchuck’s side the day before. Those deputies determined Jonchuck did not meet the requirements to be taken into medical custody under Florida’s Baker Act.

“My stepmom was at the church with me,” Jonchuck says in the video. “And I want to talk about this. I need someone obviously to help me. Because I think there’s something bigger going on. That’s beyond me, and, beyond everything.”

The officers in the video are stalling, reminding Jonchuck that a detective from St. Petersburg is on the way to talk to him.

Jonchuck is alone again the frame, cuffed back to his chair.

JOSH, ZACK AND CLAIRE (11:52 a.m.)

“Excuse me!” Jonchuck shouts in the video. An officer, off screen, can be heard acknowledging him.

“Can I talk to you?”

At this point, prosecutor Doug Ellis has paused the video while the jurors get their transcripts back.

“I want to tell you everything that’s happened,” Jonchuck says when it resumes. “The whole truth.”

The officer tells him to hang on a second.

One juror in the top row just shook his head side to side with a look of confusion.

“We’ve got a detective who’s on his way to talk to you,” the officer says. “If you like, I can be in the room when you talk to him. “ He goes on: “I can sit here and talk to you about whatever as long as it’s not about what happened.”

“Jurisdictional matters,” he explains.

Even though Jonchuck was arrested in Manatee County, he dropped Phoebe in St. Petersburg. So St. Pete detectives handled the investigation and interrogation.

Jonchuck asks to be let out, “to use the bathroom,” he says in the video. “I have to use the bathroom,” he explains dryly. The officer leads him out of the frame.

Here in the courtroom, Jonchuck stares at a computer screen in front of Manuele but doesn’t seem to be reading anything, just looking. His mouth is open.

The juror who shook his head is squinting at the screen, not to see better, but with a questioning look.

Huff is still on the stand, sometimes lowering his head and occasionally looking at the jury.

A video screen shows defendant John Jonchuck in an interrogation room in Manatee County after he was taken into custody. Detective Gerrod Huff of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office watches jurors. SCOTT KEELER | Times
ZACK (11:47 a.m.)

This is a slow, quiet portion of the trial. Down to just four observers in the audience. Jonchuck sips more water. The deputy behinds him rocks backward in a chair. One juror scribbles a note.

CLAIRE (11:44 a.m.)

As the minutes pass and Jonchuck’s video self is still facedown on the interrogation table, Manuele asks to approach. All attorneys follow.

The transcripts are being taken away from the jurors during this “long pause” in the video, Judge Helinger says, presumably because jurors keep reading ahead instead of watching. They’ll get the transcripts back when dialogue starts up again, she says.

So for now, jurors watch Jonchuck flopped over in his chair at the sheriff’s office.

JOSH (11:44 a.m.)

If I were a juror, I would find this video very damning for Jonchuck. Presumably, this footage was captured within an hour of him dropping Phoebe off the bridge. He doesn’t seem insane. He seems, as prosecutor Paul Bolan said during his opening statement yesterday, “in the here and now.”

If anything, Jonchuck seems like he could be under the influence in the video footage. He was combative with the officer who asked him questions, and has alternated between lying on the table and cradling his head in his free hand.

It raises the question our editor Amy Hollyfield asked in her column about our coverage of the trial: How come Jonchuck wasn’t drug tested? Read that column here.

CLAIRE (11:42 a.m.)

In the video, Jonchuck’s handcuff rattles as he yet again bends over onto the table.

One older juror checks his watch and folds his arms across his chest, then rubs his eyes. Many of the others have turned back to their transcripts.

One minute has passed and the same juror just checked his watch again.

JOSH, CLAIRE AND ZACK (11:3x a.m.)

The officer in the video asks if Jonchuck is right or left handed, and then uncuffs his right hand. In court, Huff says that was so he could free only Jonchuck’s non-dominant hand to drink water.

“Are you hungry?” the officer on screen asks Jonchuck. “Want any crackers?” He declines.

In the video, Jonchuck is lying on the table again with his right arm extended above his head. He’s again the only one in the frame.

In the courtroom, Jonchuck sits hunched next to Manuele, looking down. He leans over to whisper to her more. The video is quiet.

JOSH (11:31 a.m.)

Jonchuck continues whispering with Manuele as the video rolls on.

Jurors look up when the questioning starts up again on screen. One leans forward squinting, then looks back to his transcript. In the video, Jonchuck puts his head back down on the interrogation table.

One officer in the video comes back and asks Jonchuck if he would like any water.

“Real quick, where are we going?” Jonchuck asks.

“Right now, you’re staying here, but detectives from up north are going to come down and talk to you,” the officer says.

JOSH AND CLAIRE (11:28 a.m.)

Now the video shows Jonchuck alone in the interrogation room. He remains sitting, with his head hung.

Jonchuck here in the courtroom takes a sip of water from a Dixie cup. He closes his eyes.

Members of the jury watch — some with hands to their mouths, one with a pen behind his ear, some flipping ahead in the transcript.

There’s mumbling in the background of the video, but it’s inaudible from where we sit in the gallery in the courtroom.

Jonchuck remains the only person in the frame. Still cuffed to his chair, he leans forward and rests his head flat on the table.

JOSH, ZACK AND CLAIRE (11:19 a.m.)

Prosecutors have positioned a television to show the jurors a video. The jurors also have transcripts to help them follow along with the dialogue.

The video shows the inside of an interrogation room.

There are four empty chairs around a square wooden table.

Jonchuck, in a gray sweatshirt and orange shirt -- is led into the frame and seated by officers at the chair that is in the back corner of the room, farthest from the video camera.

He was handcuffed when he walked in, and it appears the officers cuffed him to his chair.

He says his name, with a pause between his first and last: “John… Jonchuck.”

Jonchuck in court can’t see the screen from where he’s sitting next to Manuele at the defense table. But the audio is playing throughout the courtroom.

Jurors watch, sometimes glancing at the transcripts.

In the video, Jonchuck recites his address so quickly the officer interviewing him asks him to repeat it. “L-A-U-B-E-R W-A-Y” Jonchuck spells out for the officer.

In the courtroom, Jonchuck’s mouth is open, and Manuele is whispering to him as he looks straight ahead.

In the video, Jonchuck says he was working at a cafe.

Jonchuck looks at Manuele in the courtroom as the video continues playing. She’s writing something on a legal pad, then he looks down.

One of the officers in the video asks Jonchuck where Lauber Way is.

“Do you not know how to use a computer? Why do I have to tell you? Look it up,” he responds in the video recording.

“Well I’m asking you," the officer says.

“I live with my dad and my step mom, and it’s next to the airport. Tampa International.”

Jonchuck’s tone in the video is combative and dry. That’s much different than the soft mumble he’s spoken with in the courtroom when addressing Judge Helinger.

Defendant John Jonchuck enters the courtroom Tuesday morning. SCOTT KEELER | Times
ZACK (11:17 a.m.)

Also from Huff’s deposition (which was filed in 2017).

“The only time he had mentioned her name was he asked if she was okay. I at the time didn’t know what her name was. I don’t remember if I knew her condition. But, you know, I mean, I asked him who, you know, who was Phoebe. And he replied — actually I don’t know if he replied anything. He stated that Phoebe Jonchuck was his daughter. So he told me that was her — he — she was his daughter. But other than that, you know, he didn’t outright come and say what he did or allegedly did.”

ZACK AND CLAIRE (11:10 a.m.)

Another law enforcement officer testifying as a state witness. Ellis calls up Detective Gerrod Huff of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

He got called to the scene that night. Ellis is asking him about Jonchuck’s trip to the sheriff’s office..

Huff, in his deposition before trial, talked about how he went into the room with Jonchuck at the station. Huff made small talk and asked Jonchuck about his job. Huff said Jonchuck told him where he worked, but when Huff later mentioned it, Jonchuck seemed surprised the deputy knew about his job.

Huff told lawyers during the deposition:

“As I say, I’m not a mental health specialist. But he didn’t seem remorseful or he didn’t act as if someone who had just, you know, allegedly had thrown a child off a bridge. He was calm and just — there wasn’t really, there wasn’t really any kind of expression other than the brief moment of confusion when he asked — when I asked him about his job and he wondered how I knew.”

ZACK (11:05 a.m.)

Jonchuck was brought out of the courtroom during that recess. He was just led back in by a deputy. Jury about to come back, too.

JOSH AND CLAIRE (10:43 a.m.)

At this point, the judge has stopped the trial and called up the Bay News 9 cameraman to the stand.

“You have two seconds to stop it otherwise I’m not going to allow any cameras in this courtroom, understood?” Helinger can be heard admonishing the photographer.

Throughout jury selection, Helinger was very sensitive to any photographs or video of the jurors being published or aired. Most local media outlets agree not to show jurors. That’s a courtesy, not an obligation -- the courtroom is public.

We cannot hear both sides of the discussion, but Helinger, who is facing the gallery, can be heard telling the cameraman: “I don’t buy that.”

Helinger then directs her attention to courthouse spokesman Steve Thompson. “That’s three times,” she says. The judge seems to be counting the number of perceived transgressions by the journalists in the courtroom.

A few jurors are still standing. The judge grants them a 15-minute recess. Helinger sounds peeved, pinching the bridge of her nose.

Afterwards, Thompson explained that while getting a tight shot of the prosecutor, the cameraman caught the prosecutor’s laptop, which was depicting privileged information on it.

CLAIRE AND ZACK (10:35 a.m.)

Officer Bryan is almost laughing as she talks about driving 125 mph over the Skyway — she didn’t want her tires to blow out, “so that’s as far as I was going to push it.”

She notes that even at that speed, she was passed by a Florida Highway Patrol trooper.

“Did you get a Bible out of the car?” Williams asks.

He hands her a brown paper package, sealed with red evidence tape. She uses scissors to open it.

Bryan peels back the paper revealing a truly huge book with gold-edged pages and a thick cover. Trying to estimate how big it is -- maybe six inches tall just lying on its side?

Jonchuck is looking at Bryan but not moving as the the book is revealed. Jurors stare at it. One person is taking notes.

We’ve heard a lot about Jonchuck’s bizarre behavior as it relates to religion in the days before Phoebe’s death. This appears to be one of the Bibles in his possession the night he dropped his daughter from the bridge.

Williams is finished. No redirect. Bryan is put on standby.

Manuele and Williams carefully slide the massive book back into the evidence packaging.

Jurors get a standing break.

St. Petersburg Police Officer Julie Bryan opens an evidence bag containing a book that belonged to John Jonchuck. SCOTT KEELER | Times
JOSH AND CLAIRE (10:30 a.m.)

That piece of paper was a social security letter that seemed to say the government would stop direct deposit of funds. Unclear exactly to whom or why. This is a confusing exchange.

Williams asks the officer about the letter, but she doesn’t seem to have read it in detail before now.

Williams asks if she came across a $100 bill in the paper bag. “I didn’t search it,” the officer says. “If there was one, there was.”

She says she was focused on trying to find names linked to Jonchuck, to find out who was “tossed off the bridge.”

JOSH (10:21 a.m.)

Apparently jurors are looking at evidence one by one, so the courtroom is silent while we wait for all 16 to see it. It must be the copy of a piece of paper officers found in Jonchuck’s pocket that night. Bolan had introduced it and Bryan had confirmed she had seen it.

The jurors have finished, and the state is finished with its questions. Public defender Greg Williams is conducting cross-examination of Bryan.

CLAIRE (10:19 a.m.)

OK, so action has stalled for a few quiet minutes and we don’t really know why.

All attorneys are seated. So is the witness. Jurors are looking around the room.

JOSH (10:09 a.m.)

Officer Bryan’s testimony so far mirrors that of Gillis and Laliberte. Given there is no dispute Jonchuck is the man who did the act, I have to wonder how many more officers from the pursuit down I-75 the prosecution will call. Repeated testimony could fatigue the jurors. Plus, the defense gets to pose those same questions to each new officer about Jonchuck’s tight grip on the steering wheel and his empty gaze upon coming to a stop.

CLAIRE AND ZACK (10:07 a.m.)

Officer Julie Bryan of St. Petersburg PD is here. She’s a longtime officer. She seems comfortable on the stand, talking in a more conversational tone than previous officers, smiling here and there as she walks through her career details.

That night she was on bar duty, keeping the peace downtown. When she heard the radio transmission, she ran to her car and drove to the bridge.

Jonchuck is staring straight ahead today but sitting with a slight hunch. He’s looking at the officers as they recount trying to catch up to him that night.

St. Petersburg Police officer Matthew Laliberte points to defendant John Jonchuck in court Tuesday. SCOTT KEELER | Times
CLAIRE (10:03 a.m.)

We’re already onto cross-examination. Defense attorney Manuele asks Laliberte about the belongings that were taken from Jonchuck.

“Including a $100 bill?” she asks.

Laliberte can’t recall, he says, because items were put into the bag “somewhat immediately.”

Again the defense is asking questions about Jonchuck’s demeanor at that moment — hands locked on the wheel, gazing straight ahead.

“I was watching him and his hands clenched on the steering wheel,” the officer says.

“He doesn’t struggle with y’all in any way, right? So you guys are just kind of pulling dead weight out of the window?” Manuele asks. The officer agrees.

Laliberte’s questioning is finished, but the state keeps him on standby, meaning he can be summoned back to court.

CLAIRE AND JOSH (10:00 a.m.)

Another police officer takes the stand, wearing his blues: Matthew Laliberte of St. Pete Police. Prosecutor Paul Bolan is questioning.

He was working the night of Jan. 7, 2015, he tells jurors, facing their seats. He says he heard Officer Vickers radio that he had seen a man throw a child off of a bridge. Laliberte headed that way.

After the stop, Laliberte got out of his cruiser and walked toward Jonchuck in the PT Cruiser, which had been halted by the stop sticks. Along with him were officers Gillis and Sousa. They yelled at Jonchuck to stop resisting, Laliberte recounts. He saw Jonchuck “gripping the steering wheel tightly.”

Once Jonchuck was in custody, Laliberte said officers walked him to the nearest marked police cruiser. He was searched before being placed in the back seat and his personal items were placed in a brown paper bag, which went with Jonchuck back to Pinellas County.

The PT Cruiser was taken back to the St. Petersburg Police Department.

ZACK (9:55 a.m.)

Will be interesting to see if McNeill’s last line of questioning is repeated for other police witnesses. The defense is of course not disputing any of these events happened. What they’re trying to get at is Jonchuck’s mindset at the time he dropped Phoebe. So minutes after, when he refused to get out of the car, how was he behaving?

They want jurors to hear about Jonchuck’s demeanor, what he looked like, if he said anything, etc.

JOSH AND CLAIRE (9:50 a.m.)

Public Defender Jane McNeill takes cross-examination. She starts asking Gillis about catching up to Jonchuck, who was also being trailed by Officer Sousa.

Jonchuck veered to the right before making a left-hand U-turn, after which he was head-to-head with Gillis, who had to swerve to avoid a collision.

Now, McNeill is having Gillis describe the pursuit south on I-75 in the northbound lanes again. Manatee County law enforcement was notified, and a barricade was set up on the highway -- about 10 patrol cars, Gillis says.

Jonchuck came to a stop after driving over stop sticks and before colliding with the patrol car barricade, and officers swarmed his PT Cruiser. The officers gave orders, and Jonchuck didn’t respond.

Her point: Jonchuck wasn’t reactive. “He was staring straight ahead, right?” McNeill asks. Door was locked. Window up.

“And he wasn’t resisting or fighting back, he was just not compliant with your commands, right?” McNeill continues.

“Not cooperating,” Gillis says.

McNeill ends her questioning, so Gillis is excused.

CLAIRE AND JOSH (9:47 a.m.)

Gillis described how she was able to radio ahead and a Manatee County sheriff’s deputy deployed stop sticks to deflate the tires. Jonchuck eventually came to a stop as he neared a roadblock of several patrol cars across the interstate.

Maybe it’s because it’s early in the day, but the jury seems pretty attentive. Looks like one woman has already filled an entire page of her legal pad. Heads moving back and forth from Ellis to the officer.

Once Jonchuck came to a stop, she and other officers approached with their weapons drawn. Jonchuck had his hands on the steering wheel. The officers were giving orders: “Keep your hands where you can see them,” and “Step out of the car.” Jonchuck didn’t obey, so another St. Pete police officer, Andre Sousa, had to break Jonchuck’s window with a telescoping baton.

“None of our orders worked,” Gillis says.

Officers pulled Jonchuck out of his car window and walked him to a cruiser.

Gillis identifies Jonchuck as the man who was driving the PT Cruiser that night. Jonchuck looks at her, slouching in his seat, and does not react.

That’s it for direct.

CLAIRE AND ZACK (9:44 a.m.)

Ellis introduces a big printout of what looks like Google Maps, highlighting the southern tip of Pinellas County, I-75 and the Skyway Bridge. Defense attorneys Jessica Manuele and Jane McNeill stand to the right of the jury box, taking notes on their legal pads.

Jonchuck is talking quietly to one of his public defenders, Greg Williams, as Gillis shows the jury where he was that night.

Gillis is wearing a black suit, not police blues like Officer William “Drew” Vickers did yesterday.

Look below here for a map of some of the events from the night Phoebe died. Location 4 is what we’re talking about now.

CLAIRE (9:36 a.m.)

Officer Jenna Gillis of St. Petersburg Police Department takes the stand. After we establish that she has a cold, she tells the jury that she was working the Street Crimes Unit back in 2015. Prosecutor Doug Ellis is leading the questioning today instead of Paul Bolan.

She had just finished her shift that night, and was driving an unmarked cruiser. Over the radio she heard a suspect was headed her way in a white Chrysler PT Cruiser. She pulled a U-turn and sought to catch up with him.

When she got in sight of the car, and turned on her cruiser’s lights and sirens, the PT Cruiser made an “erratic U-turn,” she says, coming back to face her head-on. Another officer was ahead of her following the car. Gillis turned as far to the right as she could to pull behind the PT Cruiser.

“Now the three of you are going the wrong way down I-75,” Ellis says. The officers then exited the highway, got back on going the right way, and tried to follow the vehicle.

When Gillis caught up with the PT Cruiser again, it had been halted by stop sticks in the road.

ZACK (9:30 a.m.)

Jurors are led in. Some carry water bottles as they sit and grab their notepads and pens.

Helinger asks if everyone followed by the rule to not expose themselves to news of the case.

“Yes,” they answer in unison.

She tells them if anyone has a question, to write it on a piece of paper, hand it to the deputy next to them, who will then hand it to her. Before the witness is off the stand, she says, she and the lawyers will conference to determine whether she can ask the question.

Attorneys in the John Jonchuck murder trial have a bench conference with Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge Chris Helinger. SCOTT KEELER | Times
ZACK (9:25 a.m.)

That 15-minute pause is now up to about 25 minutes and the jury is still not in the courtroom.

Jonchuck is sitting alone at the defense table as attorneys conference with Helinger. Same deputy from yesterday is over his right shoulder.

About seven people are watching from the audience. A couple have notepads and at least one is another lawyer. Unclear what everyone’s connection is to the case.

ZACK AND JOSH (9:12 a.m.)

If you tuned in and don’t hear audio, it’s because the judge and lawyers are having a bench conference. That’s not mic’d up.

The prosecution wants their expert witnesses to be able to watch this portion of the trial. The defense objects, saying it’s standard for experts to watch other experts, but the witnesses being called now deal with the facts of the case. If the prosecution’s experts see this testimony, Jonchuck’s lawyers say, they will want to do another round of depositions to see how opinions changed before the expert testimony.

That is unpalatable to Helinger because it could mean more delays than just the 15-minute pause we’re having right now. And as we all know, it’s taken a long time even to get to this point.

ZACK (9:05 a.m.)

We’re about to get started again, with the prosecution calling more witnesses. Jonchuck just entered the courtroom in a blue dress shirt and patterned gray and blue tie.

“Good morning, Mr. Jonchuck,” Judge Helinger says.

“Good morning, your honor,” he replies.

Nothing much new to report in his overnight jail log. He refused a shower this morning but last night used a razor under staff supervision.

The jury is not yet in the room, but Helinger said one member has asked what to do if they have a question. Helinger plans to instruct them on the process before things get underway.

Defendant John Jonchuck enters the courtroom Tuesday. SCOTT KEELER | Times


The trial of John Jonchuck continues this morning, with prosecutors expected to walk through more details of Phoebe’s killing and the immediate aftermath.

After opening statements Monday, the lone witness to Jonchuck dropping his 5-year-old daughter off the bridge testified. St. Petersburg police Officer William “Drew” Vickers recalled stopping at the top of the Dick Misener Bridge on a blustery night Jan. 8, 2015, and watching as Jonchuck carried his daughter to the edge.

“I heard a faint scream,” Vickers said, “and a splash.” Read about his testimony and the opening statements for both sides here.

After Vickers, a toll booth worker took the stand, explaining how he saw Jonchuck’s car blow through a closed lane after the Misener bridge. If prosecutors continue that chronology, expect to hear from other police officers who helped apprehend Jonchuck next.

Today’s testimony is supposed to begin about 9 a.m.

Read our previous coverage of the case below:

Timeline and who’s who

The trial of John Jonchuck comes down to one question: Evil or insane?

The Long Fall of Phoebe Jonchuck

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