READ TODAY’S STORY HERE

JOSH (4:15 p.m.)

Helinger returns to the courtroom and announces that Tampa psychologist Richard Cipriano is going to evaluate Jonchuck tomorrow morning. Court will reconvene when he is ready to make his oral report. If he is found incompetent, the judge could hold a competency hearing or appoint a third expert to evaluate Jonchuck.

With that, court is over for the day.

ZACK AND JOSH (4:04 p.m.)

Helinger comes back into the courtroom and says she has found an expert, Dr. McClain, to come perform a second evaluation. She informed the lawyers McClain would be at the jail in an hour to evaluate Jonchuck.

One problem: The defense has already had Valerie McClain, a psychologist, meet with Jonchuck. The jail log shows McClain met with Jonchuck about noon yesterday.

Therefore, McClain is ineligible to serve as a court-appointed psychologist in this case.

Helinger leaves the bench to go find someone else.

LANE, ZACK AND JOSH (3:52 p.m.)

All the lawyers gather at the judge’s bench while the prosecutors flip through a thick law book.

“I’m thinking to let the jurors go for the day, as opposed to making them wait for more than an hour,” says the judge. She excuses the court psychologist, and brings the jurors back in. Defense waives Jonchuck’s presence in court.

The jurors come back in, 2.5 hours after they were supposed to return from lunch, wearing their red JUROR name tabs and carrying yellow legal pads and pens.

“There’s two pieces of negative news and one piece of positive news,” says the judge. “My apologies for how long the break was, it was totally unavoidable. We’re going to return at 1 p.m. tomorrow. The positive is you get to leave now.”

“It was totally unavoidable,” the judge explains, apologizing for how long the break was.

She tells the jurors to expect a 1 p.m. start time on Wednesday, unless the Sheriff’s Office calls and tells them to arrive even later. She then dismisses the jurors for the day.

After the jury leaves, Helinger tells the lawyers she is going to appoint another doctor to check for competency. She’s going back to her office to look for a mental health expert to do that now.

Apparently we are not through with the competency check.

JOSH, ZACK AND LANE (3:37 p.m.)

With Jonchuck out of the courtroom, Poorman, the court psychologist, addresses the lawyers and judge. Jonchuck, she says, has taken all of his dosages at the jail except for missing a constipation medication. He is due to receive another injection of Haldol, a psychotropic drug he takes both orally and by shot, on April 11.

“Based upon my evaluation of Mr. Jonchuck, my analysis is he is still competent,” Poorman tells the judge.

LANE (3:27 p.m.)

Jonchuck comes back into court, flanked by two deputies. His face looks blank. As the officers walk him past the judge’s bench, then out through a side door, he stares straight ahead, mouth slightly agape.

The court psychologist sits in the front row of the jury box. Prosecutors come from the back and sit at their table. The jury and defense lawyers are still out of court. The judge comes in, looks around, and drinks from her water bottle.

Defendant John Jonchuck is lead through the courtroom after meeting with court psychologist Jill Poorman. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Defendant John Jonchuck is lead through the courtroom after meeting with court psychologist Jill Poorman. SCOTT KEELER | Times
JOSH (3:23 p.m.)

Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Emily Lazarou was the subject of several of Jonchuck’s delusions, according to his attorney Jessica Manuele. Manuele told the judge that an expert -- hired by the defense to evaluate Jonchuck two weeks ago and create a “baseline” for his mental health -- said there was clearly some “trauma” for Jonchuck associated with Lazarou.

Lazarou is an expert witness in this case, paid by prosecutors to evaluate whether Jonchuck was insane at the time he killed Phoebe.

When called to testify, she is expected to say Jonchuck was not insane -- that he either didn’t suffer from a mental illness, or that a mental illness did not prevent Jonchuck from knowing what he was about to do on the bridge was wrong.

Defense lawyers last fall asked the judge to prevent Lazarou from testifying, raising concerns about her practices. They found another forensic psychiatrist, Ryan Wagoner, who during a deposition called Lazarou’s behavior while interviewing Jonchuck “coercive, judgmental and leading.” Wagoner counted the lines she spoke during part of her interview of Jonchuck and determined did 75 percent of the talking.

“Anyone who speaks for 75 (percent) of the interview is typically not conducting an interview where they want information,” Wagoner told prosecutors during a deposition.

READ OUR STORY ABOUT DR. EMILY LAZAROU

During a hearing in December, the judge ruled Lazarou could testify, and that the defense could raise their concerns with her during their cross-examination.

ZACK AND LANE (3:20 p.m.)

Jonchuck has smiled at multiple points throughout the proceedings, so it’s hard to know exactly what Manuele meant by him expressing inappropriate laughter. But Times photographer Scott Keeler captured this picture of Jonchuck today.

Defendant John Jonchuck, center, talks with his attorney Jane McNeill, right, during a break in his murder trial Tuesday. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Defendant John Jonchuck, center, talks with his attorney Jane McNeill, right, during a break in his murder trial Tuesday. SCOTT KEELER | Times
ZACK (3:18 p.m.)

While we wait, you can read this story from our colleague Dan Sullivan to learn more about schizoaffective disorder. Multiple mental health specialists have testified about diagnosing Jonchuck with the disorder.

ZACK (2:54 p.m.)

Deputies just walked Jonchuck from a side room, where he normally waits to enter court, through the room and out of view to a back area behind the bench. It appears the competency evaluation might be happening right now.

LANE, JOSH AND ZACK (2:49 p.m.)

Manuele is walking through a series of what she has deemed concerning reports about Jonchuck hearing and believing things that are not real.

On March 18, the first day of jury selection, he told defense lawyers he had heard Dr. Lazarou, one of the prosecution’s experts, the night before in the Pinellas County Jail making disparaging remarks about Manuele. Manuele said her team looked into whether Lazarou was at the jail that night and do not believe the doctor was.

On March 19, Manuele says, Jonchuck reported hearing prosecutor Doug Ellis say something during jury selection no one else had heard. Ellis told the defense lawyers he didn’t say anything.

Last week, Jonchuck told his lawyers he’d heard jurors talking about him while the lawyers were at a bench conference, saying there was no way they would accept a not guilty by reason of insanity plea and wouldn’t even listen to doctors. Manuele said she saw those jurors taking notes during Machlus’ testimony on Friday. When court broke for the day, Manuele says, Jonchuck claimed to have heard another juror say, “I hope he believes in redemption.”

Helinger, the judge, is looking down as Manuele talks.

Today, Manuele continues, Jonchuck wrote a note to Jane McNeill, another public defender, saying he heard the morning witness, forensic psychologist Randy Otto, mention “Emily.” That’s Dr. Lazarou’s name, but she’s not here, and Otto didn’t testify about Lazarou, and would not have mentioned her by first name, Manuele says. After lunch, Jonchuck told his public defenders that he recalled Lazarou sitting on the bench behind the prosecution in the courtroom yesterday. This trial was not happening yesterday.

Jonchuck was insistent yesterday he saw Lazarou in the first row mumbling something at him.

“He also today has been displaying inappropriate laughter, which is a symptom we’ve come to recognize sometimes when he does appear to be losing touch,” Manuele says.

“When we questioned him about that, he indicated it was because we were saying things to make him laugh. We have not. He is insisting that he’s completely fine, and that he’s not hallucinating, these are things that actually happened. But we have some concerns.”

A circuit court psychologist is in the courtroom listening.

“We’ll go from here and see what happens,” Ellis, a prosecutor says.

Helinger appoints the court psychologist to evaluate Jonchuck’s competency.

The judge sighs. “Okay. Anything else we need to do?”

No.

It’s unclear how long this will take. We’ll have more answers by the evening, though. Jill Poorman, the court psychologist, may now evaluate Jonchuck’s competency.

If she finds he is incompetent, the trial cannot proceed. It’s unclear what that would mean for the case. We will update here as we can.

Court psychologist Jill Poorman is evaluating John Jonchuck to see if his mind is sound enough to continue standing trial. Jonchuck's lawyers raised concerns to the judge he had become incompetent. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Court psychologist Jill Poorman is evaluating John Jonchuck to see if his mind is sound enough to continue standing trial. Jonchuck's lawyers raised concerns to the judge he had become incompetent. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Circuit Court Judge Chris Helinger listens to the concerns of defense lawyers as they raise concerns about Jonchuck's mental state. Helinger appointed a psychologist to evaluate Jonchuck. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Circuit Court Judge Chris Helinger listens to the concerns of defense lawyers as they raise concerns about Jonchuck's mental state. Helinger appointed a psychologist to evaluate Jonchuck. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
LANE, JOSH AND ZACK (2:42 p.m.)

Manuele is walking through a series of what she has deemed concerning reports about Jonchuck hearing things that are not real.

On March 18, he told them that the night before he had heard Dr. Lazarou, one of the prosecution’s experts, in the Pinellas County Jail making disparging remarks about Manuele. Lazarou was not at the jail that night.

On March 19, Manuele says, Jonchuck reported hearing prosecutor Doug Ellis say something no one else had heard.

Last week, Jonchuck told his lawyers he’d heard jurors talking about him during a bench conference, saying there was no way they would accept a not guilty by reason of insanity plea and wouldn’t even listen to doctors. Friday, when court broke for the day, Manuele says, Jonchuck claimed to have heard a juror say “I hope he believes in redemption.”

Today, Manuele continues, Jonchuck wrote a note to McNeill, another public defender, saying he heard something about Emily. That’s Dr. Lazarou’s name, but she’s not here. After lunch, he told his public defenders something about court yesterday. This trial was not happening yesterday.

Jonchuck was insistent yesterday he saw Dr. Lazarou in the first row mumbling something at him.

“He also today has been displaying inappropriate laughter, which is a symptom we’ve come to recognize sometimes when he does appear to be losing touch,” Manuele says.

“When we questioned him about that, he indicated it was because we were saying things to make him laugh. We have not. He is insisting that he’s completely fine, and that he’s not hallucinating, these are things that actually happened. But we have some concerns.”

Defense attorney Jessica Manuele, right, raises concerns about the competency of her client, John Jonchuck, during his murder trial, Tuesday. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Defense attorney Jessica Manuele, right, raises concerns about the competency of her client, John Jonchuck, during his murder trial, Tuesday. SCOTT KEELER | Times
JOSH (
p.m.)

Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Emily Lazarou was the subject of several of Jonchuck’s delusions, according to his attorney Jessica Manuele. Manuele told the judge that an expert -- hired by the defense to evaluate Jonchuck two weeks ago and create a “baseline” for his mental health -- said there was clearly some “trauma” for Jonchuck associated with Lazarou.

Lazarou is an expert witness in this case, paid by prosecutors to evaluate whether Jonchuck was insane at the time he killed Phoebe.

When called to testify, she is expected to say Jonchuck was not insane -- that he either didn’t suffer from a mental illness, or that a mental illness did not prevent Jonchuck from knowing what he was about to do on the bridge was wrong.

Defense lawyers last fall asked the judge to prevent Lazarou from testifying, raising concerns about her practices. They found another forensic psychiatrist, Ryan Wagoner, who during a deposition called Lazarou’s behavior while interviewing Jonchuck “coercive, judgmental and leading.” Wagoner counted the lines she spoke during part of her interview of Jonchuck and determined the doctor did 75 percent of the talking.

“Anyone who speaks for 75 (percent) of the interview is typically not conducting an interview where they want information,” Wagoner told prosecutors during a deposition.

READ OUR STORY ABOUT DR. EMILY LAZAROU

During a hearing in December, the judge ruled Lazarou could testify, and that the defense could raise their concerns with her during their cross-examination.

JOSH, ZACK AND LANE (2:34 p.m.)

The defense is raising concerns about Jonchuck’s mental state. They want a competency evaluation. This could stop the trial for now.

ZACK (2:17 p.m.)

Well, it’s past 2 p.m. We still don’t know what’s happening. The judge, jury, prosecutors and Jonchuck are all not in the courtroom. It’s just the defense. Will update as soon as we can.

ZACK (1:40 p.m.)

We’re back from lunch, though the trial hasn’t resumed. It’s not entirely clear what’s happening but the lawyers have been conferencing among themselves and the jury still isn’t back in the courtroom. Judge just left the bench again. We might start up again as late as 2 p.m. It’s likely something procedural that needs to be worked out.

ZACK (12:19 p.m.)

At 12:15, the judge breaks for lunch. Court will resume at 1:15. A quick aside — nothing much new to report from Jonchuck’s jail log. He’s been receiving meals and medication, and he was seen by a doctor, but it’s unclear why or for what reason.

ZACK, JOSH AND LANE (12:18 p.m.)

Otto says some people who experience these hallucinations deny them or try to ignore them. This repeats some of Machlus’ previous testimony.

The symptoms Jonchuck was experiencing, Otto says, were affecting his ability to understand his actions around the time he killed Phoebe.

Otto runs back through some of what the jury has already heard from lawyer Genevieve Torres about her meeting with Jonchuck hours before he killed Phoebe.

“I don’t think Phoebe was chanting,” Otto says.

“All of that is operating and affecting his understanding of the nature and consequences of his behavior,” Otto says.

In response to another question from Manuele, he says that mental disorder does not prohibit people from functioning. It’s still possible to eat, drive and communicate.

“Not everyone who suffers from severe and persistent mental illness is in a hospital bed,” he says.

Go to downtown St. Petersburg or Tampa, and look at people who are homeless, Otto says. A subset of those people have severe mental illness. They’re impaired, but they’re asking for food or money and getting dressed. “They’re getting by, barely, but they’re getting by,” he explains.

Otto sips from a paper cup of water on the stand. Jonchuck doesn’t react. As the psychologist lists his diagnoses and impairments, he stares straight ahead, or into his lap. Sometimes, he rocks back and forth slightly.

The questioning moves on to the moment Jonchuck dropped Phoebe from the Dick Misener Bridge.

“He committed a terrible offense right in front of the officer’s eyes,” Otto says. “My understanding is that a gun was trained on him.”

Otto says he saw no indication in his research that Jonchuck was on drugs at the time of Phoebe’s death.

Manuele asks if Otto thinks Jonchuck is making his symptoms up. The psychologist administered a test on Jonchuck that identifies when people are exaggerating certain kinds of impairments or impaired thinking

“He’s not faking is my opinion,” Otto replies. “He’s not malingering, exaggerating or fabricating impairment to avoid some kind of negative outcome... or get some sort of external reward.”

We expect Dr. Emily Lazarou, a forensic psychiatrist who will testify for the prosecution, to say that Jonchuck is malingering his symptoms.

When Otto tested Jonchuck, he says, he conducted one assessment to determine if Jonchuck was exaggerating symptoms. It showed that at the time of the interview, Jonchuck was not exaggerating “symptoms of psychosis.”

Otto further explains he believes Jonchuck was showing signs of “thought blocking,” which is when responses are slow and delayed. Most of the jurors write on their legal pads as he describes the symptom. It manifests when you’re interviewing someone and their responses are delayed, he says, or they ask to repeat the question.

JOSH (12:06 p.m.)

We’re in the middle of critical testimony for the defense by forensic psychology Randy Otto. It’s a good time to catch up on some of our previous coverage of the case.

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

LANE, ZACK AND JOSH (11:57 a.m.)

Otto says Peter Bursten, a psychologist for the state, reached out to him about this case before Otto had been identified as a witness.

Otto says he told Bursten he did not think they should talk about the case.

Manuele asks if it’s unusual to be contacted like that about a case. Otto says no.

Otto says the public defender’s office reached out to him to ask him if he would conduct an evaluation for this case.

“I reviewed the depositions of many people,” he says, and also looked at law enforcement reports and several other records. He interviewed Jonchuck on three occasions for a total of 7.5 hours and administered psychological tests.

Several jurors are taking notes as Otto outlines his evaluation process. He explains competency evaluations as determining right now whether a person can go to court. But in this case he looked at insanity, analyzing Jonchuck’s mental state at the time of the killing.

“Somebody can be competent, but also insane, right?” asks Manuele.

“Yes,” says the psychologist. You can be doing well today, but that doesn’t speak to your mental state at the time of the incident, he says.

He interviewed Jonchuck three separate times, for 7 ½ hours total and administered psychological tests. Otto says people get tired, so he chose to do three separate interviews with Jonchuck instead of one long session — for his benefit and Jonchuck’s.

Before rendering his opinion, Otto says he also reviewed records from the Department of Children and Families, medical records, family law records, depositions of mental health professionals, phone and text logs, audio and video of Jonchuck’s interrogation, a Tampa Bay Times article about this case, and watched video-recorded press interviews from attorneys, friends, a priest, the mother of the deceased.

Otto outlines a multi-step process guided by the law for determining insanity. Note that his process mimics the jury instructions for considering insanity.

  1. Was a person experiencing mental illness at the time of the offense?
  2. If yes, were the symptoms such that the person did not understand the wrongfulness of their actions?

Most psychological tests reveal a person’s condition on that day, not historically, Otto says. But that’s why, he explains, he reviews a lot of data to conduct a complete evaluation. In this case, he looked at records written before, during and after Phoebe’s death.

“I believe Mr. Jonchuck has a mental disorder,” he says.

Otto offered a number of diagnoses, he says, and he pauses to review paperwork in front of him. He diagnosed Jonchuck with schizoaffective disorder, which we’ve heard before, along with a personality disorder.

Otto says the characteristics of schizoaffective disorder are impaired, psychotic-like behavior, such as having an impaired mood, some anti-social behavior, poorly controlled mood and reactions.

He says he also identified substance use disorders which affected Jonchuck’s behavior in the past, too, including related to cannabis and alcohol.

Otto says Jonchuck was experiencing “many symptoms of mental disorder” around the time of the offense, including auditory hallucinations (hearing a Bible knock, hearing voices directing him to do things) and paranoid delusions (believing that his daughter was possessed, referencing his daughter chanting, believing his family was being affected by Chinese drywall).

When he talks about these assessments, Otto repeats himself and stops to define words. He has charisma, and clearly has been in front of a classroom before. This is a lesson for the jury from a veteran professor.

“I attribute all of these beliefs to mental disorder,” Otto says.

Jonchuck sits in a low chair at the defense table next to McNeill, watching Otto speak from the stand.

ZACK, LANE AND JOSH (11:34 a.m.)

Machlus is excused, and the defense calls its next expert witness, forensic psychologist Randy Otto, associate chair of the Department of Mental Health Law & Policy at the University of South Florida. He’s been there 29 years, he says.

The defense brings up its next witness, Randy Otto, associate chair of the Department of Mental Health Law & Policy at the University of South Florida. He’s been there 29 years.

Jessica Manuele leads the questioning for the defense.

Otto says he teaches courses in professional ethics and forensic psychology and does legal presentations for judges and attorneys.

In private practice, Otto says he does not provide therapy but works only on evaluating people involved in litigation — criminal or civil. The vast majority of the time, he says, those people are criminal defendants.

Otto frequently looks to jurors as he speaks about his qualifications. He sometimes talks with his hands, and his voice rises and falls. He’s keeping their attention, and it’s clear he’s been in this position before.

He estimates he’s published 50 or 60 articles. He focuses on interactions between the legal and mental health systems, and co-authored books on expert testimony, the law of Florida for mental health professionals. All this makes it pretty clear to jurors that he’s an expert; it may seem tedious but it suggests to them they should take his testimony seriously.

Otto lumps his court work into three baskets: Competence, evaluating someone’s mental state at or around the time of offense, and sentencing evaluations after someone pleads guilty or is found guilty by a jury.

He says he has been conducting these evaluations for 29 years. Most of the time, he says, he’s working for the court — not the defense or prosecution. Judges, he says, appoint him to conduct evaluations.

But in this case, obviously, he’s been brought in by the defense.

Otto says “typically” he renders a decision, even if he’s retained by the defense, that’s not favorable to their case. He then just doesn’t write a report or testify for them.

“I work hard to see that my opinion is independent and objective but we know that factors sometimes work outside our awareness, me and every other mental health professional that does these evaluations,” Otto says.

“I believe I conducted sanity evaluations of three people accused of killing their children,” Otto says. He didn’t find them all to be insane.

Forensic psychologist Randy Otto, associate chair of the Department of Mental Health Law & Policy at the University of South Florida, testifies Tuesday. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Forensic psychologist Randy Otto, associate chair of the Department of Mental Health Law & Policy at the University of South Florida, testifies Tuesday. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
LANE AND ZACK (11:12 a.m.)

The back and forth continues as the defense tries to swing the conversation following Bolan’s cross-examination. This is called redirect examination.

“Did John tell you the sequence of when he pulled over versus when the police officer turned on his lights?” asks Williams.

“John told me that he stopped when the officer turned on his lights,” says the psychologist.

“Is that true?”

“Not according to Officer Vickers.”

“There’s evidence he was travelling more than 90 mph. Is that evidence of fleeing?” asks the defense.

“It could be,” says the psychologist.

“How many delusions can you have?” asks Williams.

“You can have many,” says the psychologist.

“So if you have a delusion that you’re God, can you not have a delusion that you’re the Pope?”

“No.”

Williams speaks slowly, looking at Machlus over his eyeglasses. The jurors turn their heads from him to the psychologist.

“You were asked if these delusions that he was having, that he was the Pope, that he was God, that he and Phoebe had to die in order to save the world, that there was an ice age coming, can you rationalize those delusions for us?” asks the defense.

“No,” says the psychologist. “Because they’re irrational.”

A juror passes a yellow piece of paper with a question on it to the deputy, who gives it to the judge, who gives it to the lawyers.

“Was a drug test issued after the event?” the judge asks the psychologist.

“There was no drug test.”

Another question: So because he used his blinker before he made a U-turn was evidence that he was not fleeing?

It was more evidence of what the psychologist deems “disorganized thinking.”

ZACK (11:01 a.m.)

Williams is back up to question Machlus. He’s referring to that contentious Melody Dishman statement, that she remembers Jonchuck saying he would plead insanity if ever in trouble with the law.

Dishman was deposed just last week, after this proceeding was underway. Jonchuck had lived with her for a period of time not long before he killed Phoebe. This is the cross-examination that Helinger said would likely neutralize Dishman’s statement.

“How old was Mr. Jonchuck when he made that statement?” Williams asks.

“12 years old,” Machlus says.

“Is it uncommon for 12-year-olds to say stupid things?” the defense attorney continues.

“No,” the psychologist explains.

“Obviously not,” Machlus says, when asked if this statement from when Jonchuck was 12 would prove his mental state at the moment he killed Phoebe.

JOSH AND LANE (10:42 a.m.)

Defense attorney Greg Williams now interviews the psychologist as part of his redirect questioning.

“If a person has mental illness and realizes they’re hungry and they drive through a drive-through and order food, does that mean they’re not mentally ill?” asks Williams.

“Not at all,” says the psychologist. “A person can take care of their needs and be very goal-oriented, but that doesn’t mean their thinking isn’t psychotic, that they’re not experiencing delusions at the time. They’re able to take automatic steps to have their needs met.”

Arthur wrote that Jonchuck reported no hallucinations -- on one particular page of Arthur’s documentation. There were other instances, Machlus says, in which Arthur noted manic hallucinations and paranoia.

Williams brings up the fact that Machlus’ diagnosis differs from the one made by Arthur. Bipolar II by Arthur and Bipolar I disorder with psychotic features.

Machlus calls both those disorders “severe mental illness.”

Williams then asks the psychologist if there was any indication, in police reports or anywhere else, that Jonchuck was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the top of the bridge. “No,” he says. Nor was there any indication he was on any prescribed medication.

One of the priests, says the psychologist, “saw that John had a very severe mental illness. He was talking a great deal about the devil.”

Defendant John Jonchuck, left, talks with his attorney Jane McNeill, right, during a break in his murder trial. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Defendant John Jonchuck, left, talks with his attorney Jane McNeill, right, during a break in his murder trial. SCOTT KEELER | Times
LANE AND ZACK (10:31 a.m.)

“Both he and Phoebe had to die in order to save the world, and not go to hell correct?” asks Bolan. The psychologist agrees. “But he didn’t jump,” Bolan continues.

“His actions after dropping Phoebe off the bridge could be seen as eluding the police, correct?” the prosecutor asks.

“It could be,” Machlus says. “If he was speeding away, rather than acting in a calm manner, that would be some indication that maybe he was trying to escape the situation.”

The prosecutor tries to establish that Jonchuck’s delusions kept changing. First he was God, then he had to save the world.

“And in the video of him after being captured, he comes to his senses, and knows Phoebe had been hurt,” says Bolan. “He also said Phoebe was saved by a school of dolphins, correct?”

The psychologist says that’s not a different delusion, it’s just another one.

LANE, ZACK AND JOSH (10:21 a.m.)

The prosecutor presses Machlus further about Jonchuck’s mental state the night he killed Phoebe.

“On Jan. 7, 2015 he was on probation for reckless driving, correct?” asks Bolan.

“I don’t believe so,” says the psychologist, who then refers to his report.

“So the night of the murder, the defendant says he had an argument with his father,” Bolan continues. “He unplugged the phone so his father would not call the police, because he was worried his father would call about his probation.”

So, the prosecutor is explaining, Jonchuck knew there were legal ramifications.

At the jail, Jonchuck called to ask when he was going to be transferred to Hillsborough County because of a probation violation, Bolan says. The person in the cell next to Jonchuck was taunting him, and he didn’t like where he was being housed, the prosecutor explains.

“If you’re God you don’t have to kill your child to save the world, right?” Bolan asks.

“I don’t know,” the psychologist replies. “It’s also an individual thinking very irrationally.”

“But you said the delusions don’t change, right?”

“Well it didn’t change. It was different delusions going on,” says the psychologist. “He reported that all along he was hearing these voices.”

Machlus recalls asking Jonchuck what was going through his mind at the moment he dropped Phoebe. Jonchuck said he didn’t know, the psychologist says.

JOSH, LANE AND ZACK (10:12 a.m.)

“Well you agree that childhood is important if you’re looking for a diagnosis of anti-social disorder, correct?” asks the prosecutor.

“You’d be looking for a conduct disorder in childhood,” says the psychologist.

Bolan now asks Machlus about confirmation bias. Machlus explains to the jury that it’s when you form an opinion and then search for information that corroborates that opinion. Bolan seems to be suggesting the psychologist decided Jonchuck was insane then looked for evidence to support that, excluding pieces that did not match his hypothesis.

The day before the murder, his step-mother and his mother reported that he was okay, right? Bolan asks.

“They also reported there was a Bible, and he was obsessing about that,” says the psychologist. “He was loud, and he was hyper. And these would be symptoms of a bipolar disorder.”

Bolan says, “Yet he was logical in his thinking, correct?”Jonchuck told the HCSO that he wanted to join a church, and he was getting his life together, correct?

While Machlus testifies, psychologist Peter Bursten, who is an expert for the prosecution in this case, sits in the courtroom gallery and watches. Experts are allowed to watch other experts testify. Dr. Emily Lazarou, a forensic psychiatrist and another expert witness for the state, was in the courtroom on Friday in addition to Bursten.

“You don’t know if his actions atop that bridge could have been an attempt to commit suicide by cop, do you?” the prosecutor asks.

“There were no indications of that,” Machlus says.

Bolan then has Machlus to explain what suicide by cop is -- when someone does something in front of a police officer that threatens the officer’s safety or that of others and essentially forces the officer to shoot.

“It’s possible” that’s what Jonchuck’s intentions were, Machlus says, “but it doesn’t go with all the evidence that I reviewed.”

The lawyers in the John Jonchuck murder trial have a bench conference with Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge Chris Helinger. SCOTT KEELER | Times
The lawyers in the John Jonchuck murder trial have a bench conference with Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge Chris Helinger. SCOTT KEELER | Times
LANE, JOSH AND ZACK (10:08 a.m.)

Bolan is now talking with Machlus about Jonchuck’s relationship with his mother.

“And you agree the defendant had a bad relationship with his mother?” the prosecutor asks.

The defense objects and everyone approaches the bench.

“She wasn’t there for him? And often times he’d be waiting to see her and she wouldn’t come to pick him up?” Bolan continues.

The psychologist agrees.

“And there were custody issues between the defendant and Michelle Kerr over Phoebe, correct?”

Yes.

“And there was a new boyfriend, Guy Kisser, correct?”

He was new to Jonchuck, says the psychologist, but the relationship had been going on for a few months.

Then Bolan pivots to discussing Jonchuck’s friends. He brings up Melody Dishman, Jonchuck’s childhood friend (the lawyers argued over the admissibility of one of her statements just before the jury came in this morning).

“And you talked to Melody Dishman, who talked to a police officer, and in that police report you testified that there were references to demons, correct?” Bolan asks.

Yes.

“Within that same police report Melody Dishman made another statement, didn’t she?”

Yes.

“In that statement Melody Dishman said the defendant told her that if he ever got in trouble, he would plead insanity, right?”

“Yes, when they were 12.”

The jurors listen intently, making notes on yellow pads, watching the psychologist, and Jonchuck, who stares at the judge.

“What I put into my report and what I used as evidence in expressing my opinion was evidence that was corroborated. … This was a statement that was made at 12 years old which to me is inconsequential in regards to this case,” says the psychologist.

JOSH AND LANE (9:51 a.m.)

Machlus explains again that Jonchuck was being treated for mood issues, behavior issues and symptoms of psychosis, including delusion. Yet the records from Jonchuck’s doctor, Dr. Gary Arthur, never mention anything about psychosis or delusion, the psychologist says on cross-examination.

Bolan walks Machlus through Arthur’s records. Arthur noted no hallucinations and perceptual disturbances.

Arthur diagnosed Jonchuck with bipolar II disorder. Machlus diagnosed Jonchuck with bipolar I. They are different, Machlus explains because in bipolar II you have to have a major depressive episode, in bipolar I you often have a manic episode.

In September 2014, Jonchuck initially reported hearing voices, the psychologist says. In November 2014, Jonchuck said the voices were getting louder. When he was using drugs, the voices got louder. He reported he was smoking spice, and he used crystal meth a couple of times, according to Machlus.

“If the drugs were causing psychosis,” Bolan asks, then Machlus wouldn’t have come to the conclusion that Jonchuck was insane. Machlus agrees.

When he committed the offense, Jonchuck later said, he was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

“Mental illness doesn’t equal insanity, right?” Bolan asks.

Correct, Machlus agrees.

“In your opinion, did Mr. Jonchuck know what he was doing when he dropped Phoebe off the bridge?” Bolan asks.

“Factually, the information I have is that he did have that appreciation,” Machlus says.

Bolan: “So you believe he understood he was killing Phoebe when he threw her off the bridge?”

Machlus says he has mixed information on that point.

Bolan asks if Jonchuck saw the police report about Phoebe’s death before he talked to the psychologist. “I don’t know exactly what information he obtained about the offense,” Machlus says.

The jurors are taking notes, studying the expert, who keeps referring to a thick three-ring binder. They are also watching Jonchuck, who is talking to one of his lawyers and nodding.

Scot Machlus testifies Tuesday in the murder trial of John Jonchuck. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Scot Machlus testifies Tuesday in the murder trial of John Jonchuck. SCOTT KEELER | Times
LANE, ZACK AND JOSH (9:40 a.m.)

The judge brings in the jury.

“Is everyone refreshed and relaxed?” the judge asks them.

“Yes,” they say in unison.

“And there’s nothing I need to know, right?” Helinger continues.

No.

Machlus takes the stand. Jurors flip open pages in their notepads and grab pens.

Assistant State Attorney Paul Bolan begins by going over points from Machlus’ testimony Friday.

Jonchuck looks alert today. He’s leaning forward and starting at the doctor on the witness stand.

Machlus primarily works for the defense, often on risk assessments for sexually violent cases. He’s done 100 sanity evaluations, and is being paid $175 per hour for his testimony.

“You’re being paid for your work by the defense?” Bolan asks Machlus.

“I’m paid for my time,” Machlus says pointedly. He’s trying to distinguish that he’s not paid for his opinion but for the time he spent to generate it.

It’s not uncommon for experts to work primarily for either defense attorneys or prosecutors. Both sides have a pool of experts they rely upon . Bolan can expect a similar line of questioning when the defense cross-examines the prosecution’s expert witnesses.

Machlus reviewed documents and interviewed Genevieve Torres, the lawyer who tried to get police to come get Jonchuck the day before he dropped Phoebe off the bridge.

“I did not see any significant defects in his intelligence,” the psychologist says of Jonchuck.

JOSH, ZACK AND LANE (9:27 a.m.)

Another issue to dispense with before the jury is brought into the courtroom: Prosecutors wish to reference a statement witness Melody Dishman recalled during a deposition that Jonchuck, when he was 12 years old, said he would claim insanity if he were ever in criminal trouble. It’s unclear when this would come up or if Dishman will be called. It’s possible prosecutors would talk about this with some of the experts. One doctor, Helinger notes, is likely to say that Jonchuck is malingering, or faking his symptoms.

The defense is arguing against disclosing the statement from Jonchuck’s childhood.

“Opening the door does not occur just by raising a defense,” Jonchuck’s lead counsel Jessica Manuele says.

According to Manuele, prosecutors would need to file notice of their intention to use that information under the Williams Rule, which allows evidence of prior bad acts to come into court if that evidence isn’t just speaking to the defendant’s character but instead is explaining a potential motive or reason for committing the offense. Prosecutors have not filed that notice in this case and, she says, and the Williams Rule would prohibit the testimony anyway.

The defense says Jonchuck made a statement when he was a kid, out playing with his friends, possibly on drugs, so his statement wasn’t relevant.

Helinger says: “I would think with cross-examination you could pretty much neutralize its impact. He’s 12 years old, he’s stoned.”

Then: “It’s not a prior bad act by any means,” Helinger says. “This is not a Williams Rule case, this is a sanity case.”

Helinger ultimately rules the prosecution can use that statement. “I don’t think this is particularly prejudicial,” she says.

Defendant John Jonchuck enters the courtroom Tuesday. SCOTT KEELER | TIMES
Defendant John Jonchuck enters the courtroom Tuesday. SCOTT KEELER | TIMES
ZACK AND JOSH (9:04 a.m.)

Jonchuck enters the courtroom wearing a gray-blue checkered shirt and gray-blue tie. He and the judge once again exchange good mornings.

Helinger tells the lawyers about a potential problem.

One of the jurors had said during jury selection that he lives in Trinity. But his address is Palm Harbor on the jury sheet. The clerk then did some research, and the juror’s driver’s license address was changed in December to Trinity. That means the juror lives in Pasco County. This trial is happening in Pinellas County.

Helinger: “So we’re all wondering why he got a jury summons.” The judge says there’s really not a good answer. “I don’t know what everybody wants to do about it or not.”

If Jonchuck is convicted, Helinger says, this will become an issue for the appeals court. She asks the lawyers to consider whether they want to put on an alternate juror. There are already 16 people on this panel, which means four alternates available.

Both the prosecutors and the defense want to think about it, but they expect to have an answer this morning.


Jurors in the murder trial of John Jonchuck will return to court after a three-day weekend and hear more from Scot Machlus, a psychologist who believes Jonchuck was insane when he dropped his daughter, 5-year-old Phoebe, off a bridge.

The court broke in the middle of Machlus’ turn on the stand, and prosecutors are expected to being their cross-examination early Tuesday. The psychologist already walked the jury through his assessment of the case with the aid of a long slideshow, explaining what he said were delusions and hallucinations plaguing Jonchuck in the hours before and after Phoebe’s death.

After Machlus, public defenders will likely call their second of three expert witnesses. The defense team is arguing that Jonchuck did not know what he was doing was wrong when he killed Phoebe. Lawyers have said that the expert testimony will be the longest (and clearly most complicated) part of the proceedings.

Catch up on the defense’s case so far with our Day 10 live blog.

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