JOSH (5:45 p.m.)
Done for the day.
This afternoon’s testimony seemed strong for the defense. The jury heard doctors who were treating Jonchuck say that he suffers from schizoaffective disorder and requires a half dozen medications. His counselor said even months after he was arrested, she had to explain to him what happened to Phoebe.
And both his doctor and counselor said they didn’t believe Jonchuck was faking symptoms. We expect that will become a key element later in the trial.
Of course, these witnesses were called by the defense. So it’s no surprise they landed some punches.
CLAIRE (5:30 p.m.)
Bolan starts his line of questioning for the state. It’s brief.
“You don’t investigate or interview witnesses that were part of his core group before he was hospitalized?” Bolan asks. “You don’t try to determine whether he has any type of personality disorders?”
Davis says they do make those diagnoses, but no, they don’t interview “witnesses,” as Bolan put it. (Also, Jonchuck was not diagnosed with a personality disorder by the facility.)
“There was no specific test given to see if he was malingering psychotic symptoms?”
That’s correct, Davis says.
She notes that he got in trouble for hiding medications in his mouth and spitting them out later. He also lashed out toward staff and residents.
After those questions, a juror in the top row submits a question of her own. She wants to know how Jonchuck was doing when he came back to the facility after that month in jail. Davis says he was doing worse than before he left.
That’s all for the witness.
CLAIRE, JOSH AND ZACK (5:25 p.m.)
Davis talks more about Jonchuck’s symptoms over time. After about a year at the treatment center, he came back to the jail for four to six weeks, then went back to the center again.
Davis noticed a change.
While he was at the jail, Jonchuck’s behavior got worse. Jail records show he refused medication and a visit from a psychiatrist. He also tried to grab a guard.
Manuele asks about feigning symptoms of a mental illness, whether exaggerating an existing condition or making one up wholesale. She asks if Davis’s team checks into that.
Davis says yes, they have tests for that. Jonchuck got two.
“The indication was that he was not feigning mental health symptoms,” she says.
Davis says she has no reason to believe Jonchuck is malingering.
The jury looks a bit restless, but they’re following.
These days, Jonchuck is more grounded in reality, she says. He can have conversations and doesn’t accuse anyone of reading his mind or going after the back stimulator.
“I have not seen evidence of paranoia in quite a while,” she says. “He has not had an act of aggression in a year, maybe even more.”
Jonchuck, in his seat, glances over at either Manuele asking a question or the jurors, who sit off to her side.
“Have you noticed that stress affects John’s behavior?”
When he’s stressed, Davis says, “He has some racing thoughts. It’s hard for him to keep focused and he sleeps more in the daytime to avoid people.”
Michele Jonchuck (Jonchuck’s mother) has left messages on Davis’s voicemail if she is trying to reach him. Interactions with his mother “can be upsetting to him,” so Davis will find Jonchuck in the facility to talk to him.
CLAIRE, ZACK AND JOSH (5:18 p.m.)
After Dr. Williams is excused, the defense calls up another expert witness,
Heather Davis works as counseling and social services supervisor at the same North Florida treatment center.
She says she has no opinion as to Jonchuck’s sanity in this case and isn’t here to testify about that.
She was present when Jonchuck arrived at the facility in March 2015. He seemed paranoid and thought Davis could read his thoughts, and was putting thoughts into his mind. Davis says he thought his back stimulator that he carried due to a previous injury was going to be taken from him by treatment staff and that it would give them control.
“Quit reading my thoughts,” he’d say, or, “Quit telling me that,” when she hadn’t spoken.
When other people spoke in the building, Jonchuck seemed to think their comments were about him, Davis says.
“He was agitated, he wasn’t very friendly,” Davis says in describing Jonchuck’s demeanor. She recalls he seemed especially agitated with her.
Davis remembers Jonchuck was at first inconsistent in his recollection of what had happened to Phoebe.
“He would constantly ask where is she, how is she doing,” Davis remembers. He asked to talk to Phoebe. The treatment team initially gave vague answers.
They eventually decided that he was controlled enough on the medication to tell him what had happened. That was Davis’s job. She was afraid he might get aggressive as he had in past encounters —
Bolan cuts Davis off and asks to approach the judge. Another bench conference. Jurors swivel around and chit chat. Jonchuck sits alone at the defense table watching the conference.
Back to questioning. Davis says that in May of 2015, she had a conversation with Jonchuck in which she took him to a picnic table in a fenced-in area and explained that Phoebe had died “from an incident that he was involved in where he dropped her off the bridge.”
“He was crying first, and I expected that, but after some point he became, like, no emotion — numb, shock, something like that,” she says.
After she told him he went back to his room. He stayed in that numb state for several days, she recalls.
Jonchuck is staring straight ahead in court as she recounts this.
Davis saw Jonchuck for treatment at least two to three times a week.
Manuele next asks about the recovery team. It includes the group that processes new residents at the facility, and a few others. The team meets one a week for the first four weeks, then after that it’s once a month with residents.
When Jonchuck was admitted to the treatment facility, his security status was very low. Those with higher status have more privileges. With medication, she says, his symptoms waned to the point that he had a higher status at the facility more recently, before he was brought back to Pinellas County for trial.
Manuele asks if Jonchuck for the last 6 to 9 months was “a model resident?”
Davis says yes. Once he was “trafficking” a food item, which comes from giving food to another resident, and is not actually considered a very serious infraction.
Eventually, Davis says, Jonchuck’s psychotic symptoms diminished.
“That took time,” she says.
ZACK (4:52 p.m)
OK, back to the proceedings. By now the defense has finished its direct examination of Dr. Williams.
Ellis up for cross-examination asks about the memories of psychotic people.
“Their memories can be often fragmented and impartial,” the doctor says.
Ellis asks if the doctors had talked to Jonchuck about what occurred. Yes.
Jonchuck, in broad strokes, told them “he had committed the offense in respect to his daughter.”
“He recognized the fact of the event as true,” the doctor says.
Ellis establishes again that the doctor was not tasked with determining whether Jonchuck was sane at the time he dropped Phoebe.
The doctor describes Jonchuck’s state when he entered the treatment facility. “He was aware that he had significant charges against him, that his offense could possibly lead to unfavorable circumstances and outcomes."
I am so screwed, the doctor recalls Jonchuck saying.
CLAIRE AND JOSH (4:49 p.m.)
The doctor says statistics show it’s “not uncommon” that patients will exaggerate or feign illness “in the situations they’re in in our facility.”
This gets to malingering, which basically means faking symptoms. One of the state’s expert witnesses, forensic psychiatrist Emily Lazarou, has claimed Jonchuck malingers.
The doctor says he has never gotten an indication that Jonchuck is “faking it,” as attorney Williams puts it.
Twice the prosecutors object to the defense’s next question about Jonchuck’s mental health condition over time, saying it’s been “asked and answered” already, and Helinger agrees. Lawyer Greg Williams, clearly frustrated, mutters something under his breath as he closes his folder and walks back to the defense table.
Claire thinks he said, “Well I guess we all agree he’s the same,” while Josh thinks he said, “Well I guess everyone agrees he’s insane.”
The judge immediately calls the lawyers to the bench and glares a hole through Williams as he approaches.
JOSH, CLAIRE AND ZACK (4:42 p.m.)
Defense attorney Williams asks whether this treatment has made a difference in Jonchuck.
“I believe that it has made a marked difference,” the doctor says. “He’s certainly a more agreeable individual... Much safer to others in his environment.”
The lawyer asks if that means he’s cured.
No, we don’t have ability to cure people with these mental illnesses, the doctor says. We can just treat them.
“Is mental illness a medical condition that remains constant?” Williams the lawyer asks.
The doctor explains that there are severe and less severe versions. A stressful environment can exacerbate the illness, he says, and taking medications is critical. Going on and off is particularly unhelpful.
This testimony is strong for the defense. The jurors are learning that Jonchuck needs six medications in order to remain stable. The doctor says Jonchuck was diagnosed schizophrenic as soon as he arrived at the treatment facility.
And though today has perhaps featured the slowest testimony so far, jurors are listening to Dr. Williams.
Jonchuck is on the highest legal dosage of Wellbutrin, an antidepressant, the doctor says. And he believes that all of the medication Jonchuck is on, he needs.
JOSH, ZACK AND CLAIRE (4:33 p.m.)
Schizoaffective disorder has all of the components of schizophrenia, but with additional components of a mood disorder — in Jonchuck’s case, bipolar disorder.
“I would consider it to be more complex and require more treatment, usually mood stabilizers or antidepressants are utilized,” the doctor says when Williams asks if schizoaffective disorder is worse than schizophrenia.
Doctors added Seroquel into the mix, another antipsychotic medication, plus others, such as Wellbutrin, an antidepressant, and Clonazepam, which deals with paranoia and suicidal ideation.
Williams establishes that those drugs were in addition to Haldol.
“When Mr. Jonchuck arrived, did he exhibit symptoms of severe psychosis?” Williams asks. The doctor says yes.
With psychosis, memory can be faulty, the doctor says. And they correlate, in that the worse the psychosis, the worse the memory loss.
Medication can reduce hallucinations, the doctor says. Generally, he tries not to focus too much on the hallucinations while treating patients, as drawing more attention to them can increase their frequency.
Dr. Williams said he did not use any reports from experts in this case when rendering a diagnosis.
He says he has been Jonchuck’s treating physician the entire time Jonchuck has been at the facility in Gainesville.
CLAIRE, ZACK AND JOSH (4:25 p.m.)
Williams is questioning the defense’s latest witness, whose last name is also Williams.
Enter Dr. George Randall Williams, who works at the North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center in Gainesville. He’s a board certified psychiatrist, also certified in general and forensic psychiatry.
He first got a license as a medical doctor in Florida in 1979.
Williams (the defense lawyer questioning) asks Williams (the doctor on the stand) if he’s paying the doctor to come down to testify today.
“Only through your taxes to the state of Florida, sir,” he says, meaning the defense did not pay the doctor to be here.
A Clint Eastwood-looking juror in the top row smirks.
The doctor didn’t examine Jonchuck, he says, so he won’t render an opinion on whether he was insane at the time of Phoebe’s death.
Dr. Williams says he is senior physician at the Treatment Center. He says he is part of the recovery team. Jonchuck twice went through the recovery process, which could take hours each time, the doctor says. A little unclear what exactly the recovery process means.
The doctor’s initial impression was schizophrenia, he says. He has a copy of the DSM-V, basically the Bible of mental health diagnoses.
Jonchuck showed “marked thought blocking,” basically being unable to process thoughts smoothly. He had “thought broadcasting,” the idea people are putting thoughts in your mind or your thoughts are going into other people’s minds. The doctor noted “significant paranoia,” and it’s possible Jonchuck was hallucinating.
“It’s not unheard of” for people who are mentally ill to deny hallucinations, the doctor says. They may try to hide that from others because it’s “such a severe symptom.”
After the initial evaluation, the doctor says, they started treatment with anti-psychotic medications. Jonchuck agreed to start Haldol (an anti psychotic) and Cogentin (to deal with side effects of Haldol).
Jonchuck is sitting next to McNeill, with a deputy over his right shoulder, watching the doctor testify. At no point today has he displayed the kind of obvious reactions to testimony we saw when his mother testified Tuesday or when lawyers showed autopsy photos of Phoebe yesterday.
The doctor said he Jonchuck is taking an oral version of Haldol and also a monthly injection of the drug.
The doctor says he was in contact with Jonchuck frequently early on at the Treatment Center. The lawyer asks if that was an indication of the severity of Jonchuck’s mental illness. Yes, the doctor replies.
His initial diagnosis changed, a few months after Jonchuck arrived. “It became clear to me there was a mood or affective component of his illness.” It’s not uncommon, he says, for someone to be diagnosed schizophrenic and later have their diagnoses adjusted to schizoaffective disorder.
The doctor’s altered diagnoses of Jonchuck was schizoaffective disorder with bipolar type.
“He had a very difficult first few months in our facility,” the doctor says.
JOSH AND ZACK (3:38 p.m.)
One of the jurors has a question:
Can the doctor go over the two types of psychotic behavior? Which type did John have?
The juror wants the doctor to explain schizophrenia vs. schizoaffective disorder. The doctor is answering but he’s looking at the juror and his mouth is turned away from the microphone, so it’s hard to hear what he’s saying.
The doctor then says he believed Jonchuck had schizoaffective disorder.
As we said below, schizophrenia includes hallucinations and affects thinking and feeling. Schizoaffective disorder includes those symptoms plus a mood component.
Now we’re on a 15 minute break.
Flash takeaway from that testimony: Hernandez made multiple points and observations about Jonchuck’s mental state in the days after Phoebe’s death that could help the defense’s argument that he was not aware of what he was doing and that it was wrong.
But the nurse who first evaluated at the jail, according to records the prosecution highlighted during his testimony, indicated Jonchuck was alert and aware.
Ultimately, it’s hard to say what the jurors will take away. Hernandez talked for a long time, touching complicated subjects, and at several points it was hard to understand from the gallery.
ZACK, CLAIRE AND JOSH (3:35 p.m.)
Manuele is back up for redirect.
We’re talking about the nurse who wrote an early report on Jonchuck’s condition.
She noted that he had poor eye contact and a flat affect when he came in Jan. 8, 2015.
Manuele is moving on to some other records she provides to Hernandez, which he reads from.
“I don’t like taking medication because it makes me get worse,” Jonchuck said while in the jail, according to the records.
Later that morning another staffer noted that Jonchuck refused medication for high blood pressure, appeared apprehensive, “looking back and forth” between two nurses.
Manuele asks if he would categorize that as paranoid, and Hernandez called the behavior “apprehensive.”
Now the doctor is reading a narrative from the documents. He quotes Jonchuck: “I do not need to take any psych medicines. They do not work for me. I just need God.”
When someone is “very psychotic,” it’s “very common” to believe you don’t need medication, the doctor says.
Several jurors are taking notes now. Ellis grabs a new file from the rolling cart behind him and flips through it at the proescution’s table.
Hernandez, looking at papers on the stand, says Jonchuck was apparently singing sometimes when he was in the jail.
He was also on suicide watch, the doctor says. Manuele is still covering the days immediately after Jonchuck’s arrest in 2015.
Jonchuck was asked why he wouldn’t take his medication for hypertension (high blood pressure).
“He said, ‘Bring me the whole bottle, I will take it all,’” Hernandez reads from case notes recorded at the time.
Later Jonchuck was “alert, oriented” but had an “odd affect” and was slow to answer questions, with vague responses. He denied he was a suicide risk, saying: “The reason I want to remain alive is for my child.”
Jonchuck wanted to speak with the jail chaplain.
He seemed to laugh at odd times.
“Patient proceeds to speak to himself and giggle,” one report says.
The report also indicates that Jonchuck reported some tried to take his Bible. Father Swengros was asked about that and testified this morning he would never ask to keep someone’s Bible.
As detailed in another report Hernandez reads, Jonchuck was lying on the floor by the door, and a deputy reported he was refusing to eat or drink and hadn’t taken a shower for about a week. “They told me not to eat,” Jonchuck said. He wouldn’t say who told him.
Jonchuck was also apparently experiencing suicidal thoughts, according to the report.
He referred to Deputy Huff, the one who watched him inside the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office after he was taken into custody, as “the one who shot my kid.”
JOSH, CLAIRE AND ZACK (2:56 p.m.)
Jury is led out for a proffer. Ellis is questioning the doctor without the jury in the room to determine if the next bit of testimony is appropriate for jurors to hear.
Ellis hands the doctor some records.
“Have you seen these?” he asks. The doctor says yes.
Now the judge and public defender Jessica Manuele are going back and forth. The lawyer wants to ask about the records. Helinger tells her she doesn’t need to, and shuts her down.
“Uh-uh, no. Bring the jury back in please,” Helinger says.
The questioning will continue.
The records indicate a licensed practical nurse at the jail saw Jonchuck the morning he was booked. She noted he was alert, knew who he was and where he was. He was talking normally. In a box to note any psychotic behavior, she indicated no.
The nurse noted Jonchuck did not have any ideations of hurting himself.
She wouldn’t be the one making a diagnosis, but could make those observations, Ellis notes. She works at the jail, with inmates. This, clearly, has the potential to cut into the defense’s insanity claim. The nurse filled out the form shortly after Jonchuck killed Phoebe.
“I don’t know, I was not there,” Hernandez says. “I don’t know the circumstances.”
The nurse noted: Conscious, alert, not disoriented and no mental impairment, Ellis says.
That’s what the record shows.
ZACK (2:43 p.m.)
Court pauses for a bench conference. The jurors stand and stretch. One yawns. A couple chat among themselves.
As we said, this round of questioning has been long and at some points disjointed.
Then Helinger tells the deputies to take the jury out of the courtroom again.
CLAIRE AND ZACK (2:40 p.m.)
Prosecutor Doug Ellis is now questioning the doctor on cross-examination.
He is pushing Hernandez, who apparently said in a deposition that he believed Jonchuck has a personality disorder. But now he seems to be trying to walk that back. Ellis is apparently frustrated.
“You said, ‘No doubt about it, I think he’s always had one,’” Ellis quotes Hernandez’s deposition as saying.
“I do not recall, sir,” Hernandez says. The doctor doesn’t seem to have an answer. Eventually, he says: “I guess it’s there.”
“He never told you he had any hallucinations, did he?” Ellis asks.
No, Hernandez says.
JOSH (2:37 p.m.)
Last week, Jonchuck told the judge his diagnoses and what medication he is currently taking. Our colleague Dan Sullivan talked to a few experts about what his list of medications could mean. Read that story here: In trial, John Jonchuck gave his mental condition a name
CLAIRE (2:35 p.m.)
The doctor says he didn’t believe Jonchuck to be under the influence of drugs when he was first brought in — otherwise his condition would have improved sooner.
Hernandez lists Jonchuck’s meds now: several antipsychotics, an antidepressant in high doses, anti-anxiety medication, another anti-agitation and anti-anxiety medication.
“Do you believe that he needs to be on that medication?” Manuele asks.
“I believe so,” the doctor says.
“Can someone be psychotic and still be oriented to a person, a place and time?”
The doctor says that’s not common, but can happen.
Manuele asks if it’s common for people to deny hallucinations and other signs of psychosis.
The doctor says yes.
CLAIRE, JOSH AND ZACK (2:31 p.m.)
Jonchuck didn’t initially cooperate with doctors, so Hernandez diagnosed him with undifferentiated psychosis.
“I was thinking it was psychotic, but I didn’t know why, what kind,” he says.
“When we see the patient, we talk to the patient, based on their behavior, sometimes from the speech, we can assume they have psychosis.”
Doctors needed more information. For instance, some people with brain tumors demonstrate psychosis until the tumor is removed.
Over the course of treatment, the diagnosis shifted to shizoaffective disorder.
Some jurors are taking notes, but a few look like they’re struggling to follow the thread. Jonchuck shifts his shoulders to stretch in his seat as he watches the doctor speak.
Both schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder are on the psychosis spectrum, Hernandez says. Schizoaffective has a mood component, he says. Those with schizophrenia have hallucinations, the doctor says, but a stable mood.
Jonchuck would tell the doctor he didn’t need medications, Hernandez recalls, but the doctor disagreed.
Manuele asks if Jonchuck would have ever improved without medication.
“Not at all,” the doctor replies.
In the months after Jonchuck was arrested, Hernandez says, he saw Jonchuck four times a week. But Jonchuck rarely talked and was uncooperative. He threatened to throw water or juice on the doctor if Hernandez didn’t leave.
“There was another inmate kind of the same situation that he was, the same charges, and the other inmate was blaming him all the time,” the doctor says
“So would kind of taunt him?” Manuele says.
Yes, and that made Jonchuck more agitated, the doctor replies.
He seemed delusional and paranoid, the doctor says.
CLAIRE (2:21 p.m.)
In 2016, from March to April, Jonchuck came back to the county jail.
Manuele is trying to establish which medications Jonchuck was on at that time, or reported that he was on, but the facts aren’t coming through clearly.
This testimony is, to be honest, dragging. And the jury looks like they’re feeling it.
CLAIRE AND JOSH (2:09 p.m.)
The jury comes back and Manuele asks Hernandez about Jonchuck’s medication routine.
Hernandez says since Jonchuck came back to Pinellas County Jail for this trial, he has taken his medication. The doctor has “definitely” noticed a change in Jonchuck’s behavior since then.
Before, he was unpredictable. Jonchuck once refused to go to court, and became fascinated with Hernandez’s ring.
Once, Jonchuck told Hernandez that his name was “John the Baptist,” though his given name was “Jonchuck.”
Hernandez remembers Jonchuck as paranoid and erratic in early 2015. He didn’t improve in those early months, the doctor says. That’s when he wasn’t taking psychiatric medications.
Hernandez explains psychosis as a mental disorder when one loses touch with reality. Hearing things when no one is there, for instance, or seeing things, or not making much sense.
Jonchuck’s comments like calling himself “John the Baptist” in their first conversation — “it came out of nowhere,” the doctor says. And in the same conversation, the doctor asked why Jonchuck would have killed his daughter.
“He said he was impotent,” the doctor remembers.
After that conversation, Hernandez says, Jonchuck didn’t want to talk to the doctor anymore.
Since Jonchuck arrived back in the county jail on March 13 ahead of the trial, though, he’s like “a totally different person,” Hernandez says.
ZACK (2:02 p.m.)
To slow down and explain what’s happening now: Hernandez is here as a treating psychiatrist, not a forensic psychiatrist. So this is not the expert testimony we’ve been previewing in other posts. Hernandez is a doctor, but he was not retained by the prosecution or defense to analyze Jonchuck’s mental state at the time of Phoebe’s death. Instead, his testimony has to do with his first-hand knowledge of Jonchuck’s mental status at the jail after arrest.
JOSH AND CLAIRE (2 p.m.)
Ellis objects, and the judge tells the jury to leave the courtroom while the lawyers work out a legal matter.
Ellis is arguing that discussions about Jonchuck’s four-year stay at a state mental health treatment center to restore his competency “is not appropriate in this particular type of situation.”
Shortly after he dropped Phoebe, Jonchuck was declared incompetent to stand trial, meaning he could not understand the charges he faced or the legal process. He was sent to the North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center to improve his mental state.
Ellis argues jurors wouldn’t differentiate between incompetency and insanity, and the fact that he spent years in a facility for the criminally insane would be prejudicial to the state.
Insanity deals only with someone’s mental state at the time of an alleged criminal act. Competency is someone’s ongoing mental state.
“At some point after, it becomes irrelevant what his mental state is,” Ellis said. “We’re looking for that small particular point.”
Helinger tells the state that they’re free to explain that Jonchuck was housed at Florida State Hospital because he had refused his medications at the Pinellas County Jail.
“The history of mental illness, the severity or lack thereof of his mental illness, his resistance to treatment, the difference between him medicated or not medicated, is highly relevant to the decision this jury has to make,” she says. “You can’t give this jury half a picture. That’s not really fair to anybody. They need a full picture to make a decision.”
Helinger does agree with Ellis, though, that she doesn’t want the witness to discuss anything about Jonchuck’s competency or incompetency, because she doesn’t think the jury will know what those terms mean.
CLAIRE AND ZACK (1:50 p.m.)
Manuele is now questioning Pinellas County Jail psychiatrist Dr. Jose Hernandez. He’s the one Jonchuck saw upon his January 2015 arrest.
Dr. Hernandez was subpoenaed to testify today, paid by neither the state nor defense.
He’s practiced for 20 years.
Judge Chris Helinger asks if the jury is following Hernandez. “Eh,” is the collective answer. “You’ve got a heavy accent,” she says to him, and he laughs. She asks him to start over.
His job is to make sure inmates at the jail with mental illness get the proper treatment and are safe.
Inmates entering the jail go through booking and get a mental health screening.
Some patients get placed in single cells to be observed better after they enter the jail, due to concerns about mental health.
If a patient is on suicide watch, someone from Hernandez’s staff might meet with that person every day, he says.
Hernandez says after Jonchuck refused to take medication in the jail after his arrest.
This round of questioning so far is plodding, and it’s hard to tell where it’s going.
CLAIRE (1:25 p.m.)
“Was he demanding to be baptized?” Williams asks Mallory, the church employee at Lake Magdalene. He wasn’t, she says.
She says the church hosted Phoebe’s funeral.
Jonchuck was there about 15 minutes. “He just stopped talking and grabbed the Bible and turned around and walked out the door.” Mickey followed with Phoebe.
“Did he appear to be fixated on the Pope?” WIlliams asks.
“He said he was related to the Pope several times,” Mallory says. “I could tell that he was a little off. I figured that he had not taken his medication.”
ZACK AND CLAIRE (1:25 p.m.)
Valerie Mallory is the first witness called after lunch by the defense.
She’s been waiting in the hallway all day, reading, we think, a book on Serena Williams.
She’s the receptionist at Lake Magdalene United Methodist Church in North Tampa.
“Hair is shorter and a lot of weight loss,” she says when asked how Jonchuck looks different today than when she saw him Jan. 7, 2015.
Greg Williams is handling the questions for the defense.
Jonchuck set a big book on the counter in front of her at the church, Mallory remembers. He told her it was a Swedish Bible. It looked very old, and big — about 5 inches tall, she thinks.
He told Mallory that he’d been to his attorney’s office and had asked her to translate the Bible. “And he stated that he had just found out that he was related to the Pope,” she remembers.
Phoebe was with him. Mallory gave her a lollipop. Another woman came in with him and sat on the sofa, but didn’t say anything. Later Mallory would find out that was Jonchuck’s stepmother, Mickey.
“It wasn’t really like a conversation, he just repeated several times about being related to the Pope. He just seemed agitated, but I never felt threatened or anything with him being there.”
Jonchuck seemed uneasy in his body movements, she says.
“I really didn’t have much to say back to him, I was just nodding my head,” she says. He wasn’t confrontational. He didn’t say why he was there, and didn’t ask to speak to a religious official.
He wore red plaid pajama pants, hair messy.
ZACK (1 p.m.)
We’re about to come back from lunch. First, an update on Jonchuck’s jail logs. Nothing much new, still receiving medication and his meals.
He comes back into the courtroom and sits with one of his public defenders. A zip tie is cinched through belt loops at the back of his khakis, holding the pants tighter to his waist.
Gallery is not as full as it was earlier this morning, but still a handful of people here. One woman says she writes fiction, wanted to see court proceedings in real life instead of just on TV.
ZACK AND CLAIRE (11:50 a.m.)
Not sure how effective the priest’s testimony was for the defense. He said outright that Jonchuck “was in contact with reality,” even if in crisis.
And with that, we head to an 80-minute lunch.
A quick aside, if you’ve been following this blog and want to continue to support this kind of journalism, you can subscribe to the Tampa Bay Times here.
JOSH (11:45 p.m.)
One thing to note: Swengros made clear during his testimony that Jonchuck didn’t ask him to perform an exorcism. In Swengros’ deposition, he said: “I read it on the report and honestly I don't remember that. I really don't remember that. So I don't remember telling the police that. So I think that might have been an error on their part. That's not my recollection.”
So while we can’t confirm this immediately, it’s likely that in a police report, it’s noted that Jonchuck asked Swengros about an exorcism. Though Swengros now denies it. If we can figure it out, we’ll update.
ZACK AND CLAIRE (11:40 a.m.)
A juror has a question. Same procedure as yesterday: They write the question on a piece of paper, slip it to a deputy, who passes it to the judge, who decides with lawyers whether it can be asked.
There are actually multiple questions.
Did John ask about baptizing his daughter at any point?No.
Is there an age limit?
Swengros is let off the stand.
CLAIRE (11:34 a.m.)
Bolan on cross asks about Jonchuck’s meeting with Fr. Swengros.
“I begin the interview always with a prayer and talked about what was going on,” the priest says. “He talked about how he had custody over her and recently had been granted custody over her.”
Jonchuck talked about how Phoebe’s mother had mental health issues, Swengros says. Jonchuck seemed like he was aware of where he was, and of what he wanted, a baptism, Bolan establishes. Swengros didn’t believe Jonchuck was a danger to himself or others.
Bolan asks about Jonchuck’s comment that he was the Pope.
“I said, ‘You don’t really believe that, do you, and he answered no,” Swengros says.
Jonchuck never referred to himself or others as God, or Michael the Archangel, Swengros says.
“He did have a grasp of reality?” Bolan asks.
“Right, to me it seemed like he was having a crisis but was in contact with reality,” the father says.
CLAIRE AND ZACK (11:30 a.m.)
Jonchuck is staring down at a laptop on the defense table now. He doesn’t appear to be looking at the priest talking on the witness stand.
After a brief conference between the public defenders, Jonchuck is looking up again when McNeill asks the priest: “Is there a St. Michael in the Catholic Church?”
“Yes, St. Michael the Archangel,” Swengros says.
Irrelevant, the prosecution says, and the judge agrees.
Swengros later continues: St. Michael is one of the angels who has thrown the devil out of heaven, the patron saint of police officers. He’s often invoked as protection against the evil one, like in St. Michael’s prayer.
Note: The text of that prayer is the following. St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Does he have anything to do with exorcisms? McNeill asks. Swengros doesn’t know; he’s not an exorcist.
CLAIRE AND ZACK (11:20 a.m.)
Jonchuck was anxious that the police had come to the church that morning, Swengros remembers.
“I told him to be honest and not to be worried, just to tell them what he told me,” Swengros says.
Swengros says he didn’t coach Jonchuck on what to say — or what to leave out.
“Did you tell John not to tell the police that he was mentally ill?” McNeill asks. “That he shouldn't tell them about the Bible?”
No, Swengros says. He then talked to the police, but can’t remember exactly what he said.
McNeill asks: “At that point in time, did you know about the salt? ... Did you know anything about Phoebe chanting? Did you know anything about the noise the Bible was making?”
No, Fr. Swengros says.
Jonchuck returned to the church around 2:30 p.m. Swengros was surprised because they had not scheduled a follow-up appointment.
Jonchuck said he brought his stepmother, Mickey, unprompted, to prove to Swengros that his daughter was not alone with him, “that what he’d told me was true.”
Jonchuck was insistent on baptism, the priest recalls.
“When I refused, he said he’d go to other churches,” Swengros says. “He was very agitated.”
CLAIRE AND ZACK (11:17 a.m.)
McNeill moves on to the baptism process. Fr. Swengros explains that it’s not a simple affair. You can’t become Catholic until you understand who you are, the father explains. There’s a period of intellectual formation, learning the faith and sacraments, and then a period of enlightenment. The whole process could take several years, the priest says, but normally takes six to eight months, with baptism on Easter.
“If someone comes in and says they want to to be baptized right now, could that happen?” McNeill asks.
No, that would not happen, unless that person was in danger of dying, the priest says. Swengros explained the process to Jonchuck, he remembers. The priest didn't get a sense of how long Jonchuck had been interested in being baptized. Either way, having visited the priest in January, there wouldn’t be enough time to get ready for an Easter baptism.
What was clear, the priest recalls, is that Jonchuck had issues going on. Church officials are used to coming into contact with people suffering from mental illness.
“Did it appear to you that John had some mental health issues going on?” Yes, the priest says. “Was he focused in his thoughts?” No.
“Did John tell you that he had been sleeping with this Bible? “No.”
Did he tell you that Phoebe began chanting when she touched the Bible No.
Did he tell you he had been putting salt around his doors? No.
“Did you ever tell him that he was the Pope? “No.”
Did Jonchuck ever tell you that he thought he was the Pope? Yes.
“What happened when he said that?”
“I asked him, ‘Do you really believe that?’ and he replied, ‘No.’”
McNeill asks if Jonchuck asked about an exorcism?
No, Swengros says.
CLAIRE AND ZACK (11:10 a.m.)
Swengros says he briefly spoke with the officers. That’s after the 11 a.m. meeting. Jonchuck would later come back that afternoon.
Swengros now answering with clipped, basic responses.
He says he doesn’t remember that Jonchuck had been calling the church since 1:30 that morning.
When Jonchuck came in at 11:30, he seemed “disheveled... like he was wearing pajamas,” Swengros says. Phoebe, on the other hand, seemed healthy, self-confident and well-adjusted.
Jonchuck wanted to talk about the family Bible and baptism.
Now the massive brown Swedish Bible comes back out of its evidence packaging. Swengros says he recognizes it as the Bible Jonchuck was carrying that day. McNeill hoists it into her arms; it’s so big she has to cradle it.
Jonchuck wanted to know what the Bible was, Swengros says. But it wasn’t in English and the priest couldn’t understand it.
“Did you hear the Bible making noise?” McNeill asks. “Did you hear it making a knocking sound?”
No, the priest says.
“Did John tell you that the Bible had been making noise?”
Swengros didn’t keep the Swedish Bible, but gave Jonchuck an English bible.
McNeill approaches holding a tattered evidence package containing a small blue Bible. Then an envelope with another book. Neither, Swengros says, is the Bible he gave to Jonchuck.
Swengros had given him a New American Bible, a Catholic Bible.
CLAIRE AND ZACK (10:57 a.m.)
The priest has been pastor at St. Paul for six years. It’s huge, he said, with more than 6,000 families, and over 20,000 people registered in the parish.
He is wearing his clerical collar. The court reporter again asks to slow down.
Jonchuck went to St. Paul on Jan. 7, 2015, the day before Phoebe died. The priest had never met him before, but Jonchuck had made an 11 a.m. appointment. He was half an hour late.
“He arrived around 11:30,” Swengros recalls, with Phoebe. Jonchuck later returned around 2:30 p.m. with Phoebe and his stepmother, the late Mickey Jonchuck.
McNeill is asking questions for the defense.
“Usually if I’m meeting with a parent, the child has sort of separation anxiety, doesn’t want to be separated from the parent,” Fr. Swengros says. “In this case Phoebe felt very comfortable, she seemed very alert and healthy, audacious little girl.”
Phoebe went with a church employee to an office in the building, not within eyesight.
Jonchuck is sitting as usual, staring ahead as Fr. Swengros talks.
The jurors are watching the priest intently, then bouncing their heads back toward McNeill as they await her questions.
Deputies arrived at the church while Jonchuck was there in the morning.
Jonchuck talked to police at the church “for about 40 minutes, quite some time,” Swengros remembers. Then Jonchuck and Phoebe left, and Swengros himself briefly spoke with the officers. He starts saying that he hadn’t known Hillsborough deputies had any psychological training, and he was very impressed — when the judge abruptly cuts him off.
Helinger calls lawyers to the bench, then asks for the jury to be led out of the courtroom.
She asks Swengros to “just answer the questions, please,” and leave aside “longwinded, editorial” comments.
The jury is brought back in.
ZACK (10:49 a.m.)
Torres comes back to the stand, but only so Helinger can ask if any jurors have questions for her.
They do not.
Next witness is a priest, Fr. Bill Swengros of St. Paul Catholic Church in Tampa.
JOSH, CLAIRE AND ZACK (10:15 a.m.)
Bolan wraps up his cross-examination. Williams begins his redirect.
The last thing he said, that statement that made no sense whatsoever. What was it?
“That the filing of his paperwork won’t matter,” she says.
“That wasn't the first statement he made that day that made no sense, right?” Williams says.
Williams repeats the other oddities: St. Genevieve, you’re God, I’m God. Right, Torres says.
He shows Torres a record of her emails with Jonchuck, which is then submitted as evidence. Those emails were not shown on the projector in court, though.
Bolan back up, quickly asks if Pheoebe is deceased and paternity doesn’t matter. Right, Torres explains. Williams objects but is overruled. He goes up and asks whether you need to worry about paternity if you’re God. Prosecution objects, and that’s sustained. Williams takes his seat again, chuckling.
Torres’ testimony is done.
Morning break until 10:45 a.m.
JOSH AND CLAIRE (10:11 a.m.)
Bolan continues his cross-examination of Torres.
In order to move forward with the paternity case, Torres needed Jonchuck to sign some paperwork.
“I had no concern about his ability or competency to sign the agreement,” Torres says. “He was happy, he was eager, he just wanted to get the ball moving as quickly as possible.”
But by the end of their conversation Jan. 7, she was struck by his nonsensical statement that “none of this will matter.”
Paternity always matters, right? Bolan asks.
“If you want to establish your rights, it always matters,” she says.
CLAIRE AND JOSH (10:07 a.m.)
Bolan is up on cross-examination.
Jonchuck told Torres that he’d had Phoebe for several years, but no court order to support that. Phoebe’s mom, Michelle Kerr, could seek custody, he worried.
“He was aware of that,” Torres says. “He was worried about that.”
“It’s fair to say he was extremely worried that that was a possibility?” Bolan asks. Torres says yes.
Torres says money seemed to be an issue, even though she was trying to assist by setting up a payment plan. Their consultation had gone well enough, and Jonchuck said he would come back with the money. She told him he could put some money down, plus the filing fee, and then they could set up a payment plan.
“I was trying to help him out,” she says.
Their next conversation was the last day of 2014, when he made an after-hours call. (This is the call that went to the after-hours service mentioned below.)
He was anxious, eager, she says. But that’s not unusual for custody clients, she says — they don’t exactly abide by nights or weekends off. Still, it was near the end of the day Dec. 31, and she was getting ready to go to a New Year’s Eve party with her family.
“Most people don’t expect that I’m going to start drafting paperwork at that time,” she says. “But he wasn’t rude in his email.”
She wrote back and set up the Jan. 6 appointment. That’s when they met around 10 a.m. He wanted to file as soon as possible.
“He was afraid Phoebe’s mom was going to come back and take Phoebe away from him,” she says.
Jonchuck told Torres he had a holiday dinner with Phoebe’s mom and her fiance. “It didn’t go well,” she says. “He was afraid for Phoebe's safety” — particularly when it came to the fiance, Guy Kisser.
“He said he had a long rap sheet, a lot of violent crimes — that’s his word,” Torres says. She hadn’t looked that part up yet.
Jonchuck was also afraid Phoebe’s mom would take her daughter away while she was at school, which was within her rights, so he hadn’t sent her to school for a couple of days, Torres reports.
Jonchuck called Kerr unstable.
Jurors are listening with heads bent toward their notepads.
Bolan sums it up: “There were no red flags, right?” Nope, she says, “none at all.” The only thing that stuck out was his photographic memory for his previous addresses.
He asks Torres what she made of Jonchuck’s intelligence level. “Normal, average. I was impressed with his ability to remember things.”
CLAIRE AND JOSH (10 a.m.)
Jonchuck never gave Torres the filing fee that day, Jan. 7, she says.
Williams asks Torres if she thought he was drunk when he left the office.
She didn’t think so.
When Jonchuck left, Williams asks, did you call 911?
“Immediately,” she says. “Within 30 seconds.”
She was concerned about the way he was acting, she says, but was “afraid that he was not going to go to St. Paul’s, like he said he would, and that none of us were going see him or her again.” But she didn’t think he would hurt her.
“That’s the last statement he told me, that none of this was going to matter tomorrow,” she testifies. “That’s why I was panicking and being nervous.
When she heard Jonchuck had made it to the church, she says, “I thought everything is fine, they’re going to Baker Act him.”
CLAIRE (9:55 a.m.)
If you’re wondering where those coughing sounds on the video stream are coming from, it’s a gray-haired juror in the middle row, now fiercely clenching her bottle of Fiji water.
JOSH AND ZACK (9:48 a.m.)
Torres then recalls Jonchuck insisting that she read the Bible, though she told him she couldn’t read Swedish.
In court, Torres covers her mouth and starts to cry. The judge stands to offer her a tissue. Torres sips a paper cup of water.
Steadied, she continues. Her refusal to read the Bible frustrated Jonchuck.
“When he got frustrated that I couldn’t read the Bible in Swedish -- and I said that over and over -- eventually he said ‘Well then I’m God. I must be God,’” she remembers.
She was nervous when he referred to himself as God, she says. They were alone in the loft, and the door was closed. He was upset, angry.
He told her: “I need you to read this to me, because I need you to reinstate my faith in mankind.”
Torres continues: “He did talk about how an angel was coming. An angel named Michael was coming down soon.”
Note: There have been several references to Michael in this week’s testimony. Defense lawyers have asked police officers if there was a Michael present when Jonchuck was arrested, or if they knew who Michael was. They have said Jonchuck made reference to Michael when he was handcuffed in a police cruiser after his arrest.
Torres remembers that Jonchuck told her he had an appointment at 11 a.m. to get baptized with Phoebe at a church that was about 15 minutes away. That’s how she planned to get him out of her office, she says.
“John, its 10:40, you told me you had an appointment at 11. If you go now, you’ll still make your appointment,” she recalls telling him.
So he gathered his things -- she helped him zip the bag with the Bible in it -- and then asked for a ride.
She says she questioned him as to why he couldn’t drive. Had he been drinking or on drugs? No, he said.
“Can I leave Phoebe here?” Torres remembers Jonchuck saying. She asked how he could have Phoebe baptized if he left her.
“You’re right, you’re right, I gotta take Phoebe to go get baptized," she quotes him as saying.
The lawyer figured she could call the police when he and Phoebe were out of her office, she says. Then she brought back up the paperwork, and she remembers Jonchuck getting upset again.
“He looked down and said, none of this is going to matter tomorrow,” Torres remembers. “And that caught me off guard.”
She again describes him as looking serious.
“I start panicking again, thinking ‘I need to call 911 as soon as he leaves,’” Torres says.
Jonchuck had run downstairs, and she ran after him. Phoebe, she says, was sitting and drawing.
He told Phoebe they needed to go.
“Phoebe kind of froze,” Torres recalls, like she wasn’t finished with her picture. But the girl threw the crayons and paper into a basket of kids’ stuff at the office.
“He grabbed her by her arm, yanked her out of her chair, and just walked out," Torres remembers.
She told her assistant to call 911.
ZACK AND JOSH (9:35 a.m.)
Torres continues her testimony.
We’re now at the point of Jonchuck meeting with her in person.
She says she remembers being impressed that he knew five or six addresses where he lived. Most people, she says, don’t remember that. That meeting was on Jan. 6..
Jonchuck came back the next day.
He was supposed to return, no specified time, to drop off a filing fee to get his paperwork going. Everything was drafted, Torres says.
That morning she got in around 9:30 a.m., and the phone started ringing right away. It was Jonchuck. He said he was coming in to the office to drop off the fee, and he wanted to talk.
She told him he could come immediately and she would have some time. He was there within a half hour, by 10 a.m.
He had Phoebe with him. He was wearing pajama pants and a hoodie.
“How often in your career do people wear pajama pants to your consultations?” Williams asks.
“That was a first,” she says.
Her office at the time was a loft. Initially he and Phoebe went upstairs. He was carrying a backpack.
“Forgetting the pajamas for a moment,” Williams asks. “His demeanor, talking, was it the same as it was the day before?”
Torres says yes, that he was eager to move forward in the process. “And he was talking fast.”
“Did the conversation take a turn?” Williams asks.
“Yes,” Torres says, then she delves into how.
He put his backpack on a table, it looked heavy. “It made a sound when it hit the table.”
Phoebe, Torres remembers, was wandering around the loft.
Jonchuck unzipped his backpack, she says, and took a big brown Bible out of the backpack. “It was falling apart,” she says. After he left, she found some crumbled pieces of the Bible.
“The first thing he said that got me a little — made me feel uncomfortable ... he told me that when Phoebe touches the Bible, when she puts her hand on the Bible, that she starts singing.” Jonchuck told her his daughter chanted when she touched the Bible.
“I kind of put a stop to the conversation,” Torres says. She asked for Phoebe to go downstairs to her paralegal. She had some crayons down there to draw.
Jonchuck watches her recount this meeting from the defense table.
“He made the connection or parallel to people that were speaking in tongues,” Torres says.
After Phoebe left, the layers says, she tried to start talking about the paperwork, but Jonchuck wasn’t interested in the paternity case. He said it was going to sound weird but he thought she was St. Genevieve and had just come back from the city of Babylon. She recalls saying no.
“Well if you’re not St. Genevieve, then you must be God,” she remembers Jonchuck saying.
“And he was serious.”
There are 14 spectators in the courtroom today, in addition to the reporters and bailiffs. The entire right side of the courtroom, behind the defense’s table, is full.
JOSH (9:27 a.m.)
Torres’ testimony is interrupted by a loud clattering. The judge has fallen off the bench.
First a beat of uncertainty, and then gasps as those in the courtroom realize Judge Helinger is no longer visible. A bailiff, Deputy Jocelyn, springs from his seat on the other side of the courtroom to check on the judge. She is up and off the ground by the time he gets there.
“I’m fine,” she says, smiling. She explains her 3-inch heel got caught.
ZACK AND JOSH (9:23 p.m.)
Torres recalls she first saw Jonchuck in August 2014. He came into her family law office for a consultation, accompanied by another man. Jonchuck had a paternity issue, she says, meaning he had a child born out of wedlock and needed to establish his parental rights over Phoebe.
Jonchuck is sitting as usual, watching as the lawyer speaks.
“Everything was normal, he asked the right questions,” Torres says.
The consultation took about half an hour.
Torres was told to slow down when she speaks, not interrupt public defender Greg Williams and move closer to the microphone. The court reporter is having a hard time keeping up.
“I’m usually on the other side,” she says to the judge.
The day after the consultation, she sent a follow up email saying it was great to meet Jonchuck and she looked forward to help him.
He replied soon after, but she didn’t hear from him again until Dec. 31, 2014, when Jonchuck called her office. Torres was in Montreal visiting her family and her office was closed, so her answering service alerted her to his call. She reached back out to him explaining she was out of town and that they could schedule an appointment upon her return.
Williams makes sure to ask Torres that she did not tell her she was in Babylon. No, she says.
The pair exchanged a few more emails, naming specifically Phoebe’s mother’s boyfriend, Guy Kisser. Jonchuck was concerned about Kisser, Torres says, though she does not describe how or why.
Many of the jurors are taking notes on her testimony.
ZACK (9:10 a.m.)
Torres is obviously a lawyer, which brings some confidentiality concerns, but attorney-client privilege has been waived. The court confirms that fact with Jonchuck before the jury is brought in.
Jurors grab their legal pads, reviewing some notes, turning to new pages. Some need a second pad by this point in the trial.
ZACK (9:09 a.m.)
Dr. Emily Lazarou is in the gallery today to watch the testimony of Genevieve Torres, a custody lawyer who called authorities hours before Phoebe’s death because she was concerned about Jonchuck’s mental state.
You may remember that Lazarou was at the center of a defense motion which previously delayed this case. Read about that controversy here.
ZACK (9:05 a.m.)
Jonchuck enters court wearing another blue shirt, close to royal, and striped tie. He looks at one of the public defenders, Jessica Manuele, flipping through a legal pad.
About to begin.
Prosecutors spent the beginning of the week bringing forth a steady line of police officers, one who witnessed John Jonchuck drop his daughter, Phoebe, off a bridge, and others who later arrested him.
They believe they established that Jonchuck murdered his 5-year-old girl. But the case is far from over.
CATCH UP ON OUR COVERAGE OF DAY 8
The defense will formally introduce questions about Jonchuck’s sanity, calling witnesses to testify about his history of mental health issues and erratic behavior in the days before the killing. They started Wednesday afternoon with Jonchuck’s father and a woman who saw him and Phoebe outside an apartment complex in Tampa, hours before they reached the top of the Dick Misener Bridge.
The public defenders expect to start Thursday’s proceedings with a custody lawyer, Genevieve Torres, who called authorities the day before Jonchuck killed Phoebe because she was concerned about his mental state. Later, the public defenders said, it’s possible they will try to put Jonchuck’s mother, Michele, back on the stand.
Read our previous coverage of the case below: