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The Trial of John Jonchuck, Day 17: Watch as the prosecution brings forth a controversial witness

The second expert witness for the prosecution has already drawn challenges from the defense
LANE (4:49 p.m.)

The day ended abruptly, without the psychiatrist finishing her testimony. We figured the lawyers and judge were going to argue more about Lazarou’s testimony.

But afterwards, in the courtroom, defense attorneys said they asked to end the day’s proceedings because they were worried about Jonchuck.

“John’s mental illness is a fluid thing,” defense attorney Greg Williams said. “We had concerns and wanted to minimize the potential for him to decompensate.”

Was Jonchuck getting upset watching the psychiatrist’s testimony?

After all, in jail he had previously hallucinated that he’d heard Lazarou saying bad things about him and his lawyers. But she hadn’t been in the jail.

Williams hesitated, and looked to his co-counsel. Craig Whisenhunt, a consultant to the defense, said, “I think this whole trial is stressing him out.”

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

Bolan now goes over specific traits of psychopathy that the psychiatrist found. We’ve all heard this checklist before. So have the jurors.

Signs of his psychopathy, she says, include “an ability to tell convincing stories, talk his way out of the box.” And delusions of grandeur. “I felt he was controlling the interview, he told me I was manipulating others to tell me what I wanted to hear. He was telling me how to run the interview. That usually doesn’t happen.”

A need for stimulation is another sign, she says. “He had a lot of different places to live … 10 different places in five years. He stopped school because he was bored. Quit jobs because he was bored,” Lazarou says. “In addition, the substance abuse. They’re looking for stimulation outside of their normal existence.”

Jonchuck was cunning and manipulative, she says. “He bought a specialized printer to print checks and …”

Manuele objects. Lawyers gather at the bench again. Then testimony restarts.

Lack of remorse or guilt is another sign of psychopathy. “When I asked John if he felt guilt about anything …” Objection and bench conference.

Yesterday we kept track of the number of bench conferences. We counted at least 15. We haven’t been keeping track today, but there have been at least three since we came back from the afternoon break 20 minutes ago. Another note: There are a couple observers in the gallery today, both just residents interested in the trial. Back to testimony.

“A shallow affect” is another trait. “He didn’t have any real expression” during his interrogation, she says.

He also had a parasitic lifestyle, permissive sexual behavior, early behavioral problems, explosive anger, and lack of follow-through on his plans to go to beauty school or college, where he had said he wanted to study to be a paralegal, says the psychiatrist. All traits of psychopathy.

Another bench conference. And then, surprise, at 3:35 Helinger tells the jury the court is “going to call it a day.”

The jurors swivel in their chairs, looking a bit antsy. Another interruption, and another short day. Can’t imagine this is what they expected when they were called for jury duty last month.

Helinger then stops them. Another bench conference with the lawyers.

“Okay,” she says. “So that will be it for the day.” She tells them to come back at 9 a.m. tomorrow.

Lazarou is also allowed to leave. The lawyers say they have nothing else to argue either, for now. This is another surprise. We expected they needed to talk about something else without the jury present. But apparently not.

We’re done for the day.

ZACK, LANE AND JOSH (3:24 p.m.)

“I didn’t see anything that would make me believe he had a hypomanic episode outside of substance abuse,” Lazarou says. “I ruled bipolar out.”

Usually people with schizophrenia can tell you about their psychotic symptoms even when they’re medicated and no longer have the symptoms, she says. With Jonchuck, there wasn’t much detail. “There wasn’t a depth of symptoms like when someone had a true episode,” she says. And he was seeing images over his left eye only. “To just see images over one eye is not a typical symptom,” she says. And he told her he saw puppies and dinosaurs, which are not typical hallucinations. “There were all of a sudden a lot of symptoms, then they were gone,” she says. “That’s not typical.”

This is the first time we’re hearing about puppies or dinosaurs. Jurors are writing in their legal pads. These are fresh details after days of mostly the same timeline and descriptions.

When Jonchuck was being treated in the hospital, after he was arrested, she says, he was getting low doses of medication and became competent on those low doses.

The typical dosage of Seroquel for someone having a psychotic break is 400 mg twice a day, the psychiatrist says. “But he’s only on 20 mg twice a day.“

That “was giving me some pause.” she explains. “Especially for John’s size, he’s a big guy.”

Delusions, she explains, are “fixed, false” beliefs. She emphasizes “fixed.” Jonchuck’s supposed delusions, she says, bounced around — God to archangel to devil to demon.

“Psychotic symptoms don’t work like that,” she says.

Again, Lazarou is an outlier in the expert testimony we’ve heard so far. Even Bursten, the psychologist called by the prosecution earlier this week, conceded Jonchuck may have been experiencing some psychotic features. The fact that Lazarou contradicts other testimony presented by the state’s other expert witness is something prosecutors will likely have to address during closing arguments. It seems they believe a second expert opinion that Jonchuck doesn’t qualify for NGRI is worth the discrepancy in their own case. The defense lawyers are also likely to harp on this during their cross-examination.

Lazarou continues explaining that Jonchuck’s delusions weren’t detailed. “It wasn’t in-depth, and it continued to change,” she says. “It changed within the conversation to (custody lawyer Genevieve) Torres: You’re God, okay you’re not, I’m God.”

“I ruled the psychotic delusion out because of all those things,” she says.

She talks about a client who cut his penis off as a sacrifice to God. Manuele objects, questioning the relevance. After a long pause, Helinger allows the psychiatrist to continue. “That is a psychotic delusion with a lot of depth, over a long period of time, it got deeper and deeper, and he did a serious thing in response to a delusion.”

Lazarou continues, saying: “The delusions people most follow are delusions of God, or some big being like that. But when I asked John about the delusions at that time, he couldn’t tell me who that was. He could not tell me male or female. So that was another thing that went against him.”

Does Jonchuck have an organic brain illness? asks Bolan. No, says the psychiatrist. Nothing showed up in brain scans that would indicate that.

“Does the defendant suffer from mental illness, prong one of the insanity defense?” asks Bolan.

No, Lazarou says. “I noted the construct of psychopathy to a severe degree. And the substance use disorders.”

She says she believes Jonchuck was malingering his symptoms when he killed his daughter.

Basically, she is saying that Jonchuck was faking it to get away with murder.

LANE, JOSH AND ZACK (2:54 p.m.)

Lazarou talked to Dr. Gary Arthur, who had treated Jonchuck since childhood. “Nowhere in his records did he talk about substance abuse problems, other than alcohol,” she says. “And he didn’t have any drug testing in his records at all.”

According to Arthur’s records, Lazarou says, Jonchuck just stopped showing up. A “no-show,” Lazarou says. There has been previous testimony that Jonchuck stopped showing up to appointments with Arthur because Jonchuck said his medical insurance lapsed.

Multiple jurors take notes when Lazarou begins to talk about her diagnosis. Remember, she determined Jonchuck was a psychopath, but Helinger has decided not to allow Lazarou to say that in front of the jury.

Differential diagnosis is basically all the different classes of diagnosis you want to get at when you see somebody, the psychiatrist says.

There are multiple different mood disorders, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, major depressive disorders, substance use disorders, cognitive disorders, she says. “I’m trying to figure out what’s their complaint, what am I seeing. … In this particular case, it’s a complicated one, I didn’t see any significant major depressive disorders. I noted that he had bipolar 2 as a diagnosis from Dr. Arthur.”

Lazarou says she started her differential diagnosis while examining records before she even met Jonchuck.

“John had been on stimulant medication since age 5,” she says. “These are very potent ones we prescribe.”

Jonchuck turns and talks to public defender Jane McNeill as Lazarou rolls through this portion of her testimony.

There’s no way he could have bipolar disorder, the psychiatrist says, because he’d been on so many stimulants for so much of his life, and those could trigger manic episodes which might look like symptoms of bipolar disorder.

“Because of that history, I ruled out bipolar disorder,” she says.

This testimony already sets her apart from several other experts, who have said Jonchuck showed signs of bipolar disorder.

We break for an afternoon recess.

Defendant John Jonchuck stands during an afternoon break Wednesday. SCOTT KEELER | Times
JOSH, LANE AND ZACK (2:37 p.m.)

The jury comes back in.

Bolan asks about whether Jonchuck participated in the interviews.

Lazarou says no, generally people will answer her questions at length.

But not Jonchuck, who she says offered “very choppy, one-word answers.”

Bolan asks: Do you also have to rule out drug use on the day of the killing? Yes, Lazarou says, she ruled it out based on the interview. Johnchuck said he hadn’t used drugs since the middle of December.

“I had to take his word for that. That’s what he’s telling me, so I have to go with that,” she explains.

Lazarou dives into Jonchuck’s early life. He was born a big baby, she says, and his mom did not use any drugs while she was pregnant with him. He hit all his major milestones, Lazarou says. “He has back issues, a spinal stimulator placed, he also told me he had high blood pressure,” she says. “I’d known from reports that he’d been seeking psychiatric treatment since he was a young child.”

Jonchuck’s father, John Jonchuck Sr., testified to the jury two two weeks ago that he believed Jonchuck’s mother, Michele Jonchuck, may have used drugs during her pregnancy with Jonchuck.

Lazarou is referring to her binder with notes and records from the case as she speaks. She’s more plainspoken than the other experts, and even a little more personal in how she recounts the case and approaches the jury.

The psychiatrist wondered if the ADHD medication made Jonchuck’s blood pressure go up. “He also told me at one point that he had a history of seizures. … He felt that the seizures were brought on by stress. He’d seen a neurologist who was treating him for seizures but it was mostly based on self-report.”

John had a right arm tendon repair surgery due to a self-injury that he’d suffered when he was 16, the psychiatrist says.

He had brain scans done, but they were negative for seizures. “That led me to induce they could have been drug-induced seizures,” Lazarou says.

She sips from a paper cup of water as she reads her notes, rolling through more of Jonchuck’s psychiatric history and how he related it to her.

At the defense table, Jonchuck rocks back and forth in his seat and looks around the courtroom.

LANE, JOSH AND ZACK (2:21 p.m.)

The first interview was a lot better, Lazarou says. Jonchuck was more cooperative, answering questions “in a guarded fashion.” She says Jonchuck’s mood was normal; his intellect is “at least average.”

“His thought process was logical, coherent. I felt there were times he wasn’t being elaborative,” says the psychiatrist. “I try to be very open-ended, but in this interview it was a struggle to get open-ended questions answered. That was difficult for me. The interview didn’t go as smoothly as it could.”

Jonchuck never reported auditory or visual illusions while they were talking, she says.

“He didn’t have any psychotic symptoms, he didn’t report any psychotic symptoms, there was nothing about John that gave me the impression that he had psychotic symptoms,” the psychiatrist says. “He was on a lot of different medications.” But the medications wouldn’t have affected his ability to understand what was happening, she says.

Lazarou never gave Jonchuck any tests. She says she didn’t need to. If a person isn’t reporting any symptoms, there’s nothing to test for, she says. Nor did she conduct any malingering tests.

Malingering can be to get money, to get out of the consequences of your legal actions, anything like that, Lazarou says. There are four criteria for malingering:

  1. A medical / legal situation
  2. Compliance or non-compliance with a treatment or an assessment
  3. The symptoms they’re reporting are more than you’re observing
  4. Factors of antisocial personality disorder.

People fake different medical conditions for different reasons, she says. Faking back pain to get pain medication, faking suicidal idealization to get a hospital bed if they don’t have a place to stay … .

The jurors are watching Lazarou as she speaks. They have pens in their hands but are not taking many notes; they’ve heard several times now about how experts conduct evaluations.

“I sort of tell them in advance to save face that I’m going to be able to tell if you’re not telling the truth and it’s not going to be a comfortable situation for either of us,” Lazarou says. “I use the term lying, because that’s what the average person would understand.”

Bolan asks to approach for a bench conference. Several jurors begin to write as the lawyers go up for another meeting with the judge. Then the judge sends them out again. “Shouldn’t take more than five minutes.”

LANE AND JOSH (2:10 p.m.)

Like other experts, Lazarou says she reviews police reports and depositions in her evaluations, and she conducts interviews with the subjects and people who know them.

“Then I go home and I ask whoever’s retaining me if they want a report,” the psychiatrist says. “I usually sleep on it ... then write the report.”

In this case, she reviewed police reports, mental health records, jail records, state hospital records, a lot of audio and video of the interrogation, some calls, autopsy photos, a lot of Department of Children and Family Reports, school records, depositions.

“Forensic interviews are a little different, because there’s a specific legal question there,” she says. “In this evaluation I have a lot of information around this person, rather than just taking that person at face value. It is not common to get the amount of records we get in court cases” when doing private practice evaluations.

Jonchuck sits with his shoulders slightly shrugged as Lazarou addresses the jury. His mouth is closed, and he looks forward. Earlier in the trial, his lawyers said he was hallucinating about Lazarou, imagining she was in the Pinellas County Jail and making disparaging comments about one of his lawyers. Two mental health professionals evaluated Jonchuck after lawyers raised the hallucination concerns and found he was competent to continue the trial. The defense separately said they consulted with an expert who found there’s “trauma” for Jonchuck associated with Lazarou. Read more about those issues here and here.

“Not only am I looking for a diagnosis, I’m getting a feel for the person, an idea of what’s going on, what kind of person you’re talking to, how they look, if they smell weird, or there’s body odor, what their hair is like,” the psychiatrist says on the stand. He report in this case, she says, was 87 pages, size 11 font, single-spaced.

She first interviewed Jonchuck in October 2017. 8:45 a.m. until 3:45 p.m., without a break.

Her second interview was in May 2018. Both were at the mental health treatment center outside of Gainesville where Jonchuck was being housed.

She also interviewed Phoebe’s mother, Michelle Kerr; Jonchuck’s mother, Michele Jonchuck; his uncle Bryan Morris; and his childhood best friend, Melody Dishman.

“I always talk about me being a medical doctor because sometimes I can’t take myself out of that role,” Lazarou says.

Jonchuck looked “like he does now, but he (was) wearing different clothes, hospital attire,” she says. “His expression was flat, and he was wiping his mouth a lot. I know that a lot of times that’s a sign of taking psychiatric medication.”

Psychiatrist Emily Lazarou testifies in court Wednesday. SCOTT KEELER | Times
LANE AND ZACK (2 p.m.)

“The state calls Dr. Emily Lazarou,” Bolan says. Once again, she enters wheeling a suitcase. Lazarou glances at the jurors and is then sworn in.

Though the psychiatrist has been in court all day, this is the first time the jury has seen or heard her.

“Good afternoon, doctor,” Helinger says. Lazarou takes out a binder and puts it on the witness stand.

“I’m a general forensic psychiatrist,” she tells the jury. She turns her chair to face them, gesturing with her hands, and traces her credentials from Baylor University to the University of South Florida. She’s a member of the Florida Medical Association. “I’ve been in private practice since 2008,” Lazarou says. “I was a psychiatrist at the Bay Pines VA, and the Tampa VA, and I have done a lot of work in corrections.” Prison, death row, multiple jails. She worked with a “not guilty by reason of insanity” clinic in Texas, teaches at USF medical school and has done multiple presentations about personality disorders and other topics..

She has testified in court approximately 70 times, she says, including in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Citrus — mostly in central Florida. Bolan asks Lazarou if she was recently hired by the Pinellas public defender’s office in another case. “Yes,” Lazarou says, in January of this year.

We know from previous reporting she primarily works for prosecutors.

She has found someone was insane in a trial in August 2018, she says.

Lazarou was retained in this case by the prosecution in March 2017. “I was asked to evaluate Mr. Jonchuck and determine if he meets the criteria for Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity,” she says.

ZACK (1:48 p.m.)

The bench meeting breaks, and prosecutors walk out to talk to Lazarou. Helinger tells the jurors it will just be a couple minutes before the state calls its next witness. So it appears that the psychiatrist will take the stand.

ZACK AND LANE (1:45 p.m.)

Bench conference is ongoing. It appears they’re discussing the Lazarou issue, and the defense is arguing with the judge. Jury is still in the room, and some seem to be looking at the conferencing attorneys.

Last the jurors heard, the judge was asking about the people in the cafeteria.

ZACK (1:36 p.m.)

All the jurors come back in. Helinger mentions the “interesting happening” over lunch, which might have been mentioned in the jury room. They all say they know what the judge is talking about.

But, they say, what they heard will not affect their decision in the case.

Helinger calls up the lawyers for a bench conference. The jurors stay in their seats.

JOSH, LANE AND ZACK (1:30 p.m.)

Remember, we’ve already lost two jurors: One because he lived outside of Pinellas County, another who got sick. Alternates have stepped in for those two. There are two alternates left.

This juror says: “Down in the cafeteria, there were two lawyers, many tables away, dressed up in nice suits” who made jokes about Helinger’s appearance and Jonchuck’s last name. “I got up and walked away. It was very unprofessional,” says the juror. “I couldn’t believe those people were saying that.”

“That’s not going to impact you in any way?” asks the judge.

“No, absolutely not,” says the juror. He told a female juror what happened. So now the judge calls her in too.

She says: “He pointed out two individuals that had suits on and he said they were making comments about the judge and her hair, and they were also making comments about this particular case and he got up and walked away. I told him, ‘You should’ve told them to shut the f--- up.’”

Helinger, all the lawyers and Jonchuck laugh. The juror says she’s from New York and would have confronted the men.

She said they were “making a rhyme” about Jonchuck’s name, and that it wouldn’t influence her in any way. But she told other jurors about that too. So now Helinger will question the jurors as a group to make sure this isn’t going to influence their decision in the case.

LANE AND ZACK (1:23 p.m.)

Another issue arose. One juror said he overheard a conversation between two gentlemen in the cafeteria, who were wearing suits, saying disparaging things about the judge and Jonchuck. That juror is being led back in to be questioned.

LANE, JOSH AND ZACK (1:07 p.m.)

“Dr. Bursten testified that psychopathy is the most extreme version of antisocial personality disorder,” says Bolan. “They could have asked their experts prior to this, they could’ve asked Dr. Lazarou during her deposition. Dr. Bursten has been saying that from the very beginning. I don’t think that’s new information.”

Helinger is waiting patiently for Bolan to finish. She holds her hands together near her face.

When he sits, Helinger purses her lips and looks down.

“I’m going to take a break,” the judge says, later adding, “I’m going to talk to some other brains. It won’t take me long.”

Manuele stands up and says psychopathy is not the specifier for borderline personality disorder. She’s back into the nitty-gritty of the DSM-5, saying the court should not assume this diagnosis was encompassed in Lazarou’s original report.

Williams makes one last point, adopting language that Bursten and one of the defense experts, Michael Maher used:

“You put us all in the same room, we’re pretty much all going to have the same diagnosis,” Williams reminds the judge of what Bursten and the defense expert said. “(Lazarou’s) now bolstering for offering an opinion that’s consistent with their expert from yesterday.”

She is the only witness, on either side, who doesn’t believe Jonchuck has some form of mental illness.

The judge dismisses the point. She says Lazarou still isn’t in the room with the other experts, who all agree Jonchuck is severely mentally ill.

The judge breaks and says she will return in 10 minutes.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Chris Helinger contemplates questions from the defense about the testimony of psychiatrist Emily Lazarou. SCOTT KEELER | Times
LANE AND JOSH (1 p.m.)

“Would you agree with me that her diagnosis has changed?” the judge asks the prosecutor.

“No. I think her diagnosis is still psychopathy,” Bolan says. “But she’s offered an explanation that antisocial personality disorder and borderline personality disorder are subsumed in that diagnosis of psychopathy. We were offering to the court another way to get there through her testimony. I don’t think it was a different diagnosis at all.”

The judge holds her face in her hands. “I think she elaborated on her diagnosis,” she finally says. “To me, the change would allow her to testify because I was not going to let her testify if all she was going to say is that Mr. Jonchuck is a psychopath.”

She asks Bolan if he disagrees that it would have been “legally inappropriate” for Lazarou to testify that Jonchuck was not legally insane because he was a psychopath.

Bolan and prosecutor Doug Ellis confer.

“I understand the court’s thinking on that,” Bolan says. “For us psychopathy is a mental health issue. It’s the alternative explanation to the murder, the rebuttal to what they’re presenting as mental illness.”

Helinger turns to the defense.

“And we would not be faced with this same issue if she had said all along that she doesn't believe he’s NGRI … and that she used the psychopathy checklist just as Dr. Bursten did?” the judge asks Williams. (NGRI = not guilty by reason of insanity)

Standing, Williams says he can’t defend Jonchuck against an allegation of borderline personality disorder, a diagnosis that didn’t make Lazarou’s report, if it materialized this morning.

“I did not see the word borderline in her report or in her prior depo,” he says.

Yet yesterday’s witness, psychologist Peter Bursten, gave the same diagnosis of personality disorder.

The judge asks Williams how he would have cross-examined Lazarou if the diagnosis of antisocial and borderline personality disorders were in her report.

He might have tried to convince the jury Lazarou’s opinion doesn’t stand up against the defense’s experts. Or maybe he would attack her report based on its content.

“Her report is so extreme, so over the top, that I’d have to decide do I go ahead with just that?” Williams says. “Or do I attack this witness on the basis of her report, that she says things like cold-blooded psychopath.”

“But how does it change?” asks the judge.

“I have to get into every incidence of bias, every incidence of prejudice,” says the defense lawyer. “I should have the opportunity, knowing what my cross-examination is, well before the trial begins, and certainly not halfway through it. I might have had my experts testify ahead of time to lay the foundation for is it appropriate for an expert to say something like this? Is this diagnosis something that even should be considered?”

“That’s a pretty good argument, “ Helinger says.

Bolan responds: “I don’t see how they’re surprised by what we’re going to do.”

ZACK (12:54 p.m.)

Lazarou is one of just two expert witnesses for the prosecution. Helinger’s ruling here could have huge implications for their rebuttal.

LANE, JOSH AND ZACK (12:48 p.m.)

Helinger allows Bolan to respond for the prosecution.

“I think it’s clear that she’s saying the same thing, but the second time she came in there was clarification. We fleshed it out in a way that makes sense to the court and makes sense to me,” Bolan says. “We didn’t really get a clarification about what she could testify to …. My original plan was to have her testify to psychopathy. If not, she can certainly support her opinions based on the antisocial personality disorder, which supports the psychopathy.”

The judge respond: “If I remember her testimony correctly from this morning, she said if someone is diagnosed with a psychopathy checklist and has high scores, they’d automatically quality for antisocial personality disorder or borderline personality disorder."

Then Helinger looks to the defense. “I don’t think her diagnosis has really changed,” the judge says. “I think she’s just characterized it in a different manner.”

Williams stands and walks to the lectern, saying he understands, but that Lazarou’s initial report after her evaluation of Jonchuck did not have this diagnosis in it. It mentioned Jonchuck being a psychopath, a detail that will not be mentioned before the jury.

“My problem is, how do I cross-examine someone whose report was inadmissible, and does not contain the diagnosis she presents in the courtroom?” Williams says. “She’s now going to testify to something different. The wording is different. I now have to defend Mr. Jonchuck against a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder that I did not have to defend him from this morning. ... I’m not suggesting there isn’t a line or medical theory that psychopathy is a subset of anti-personality disorder. I have to defend my client against something that had not been previously been told to me. In order to point out the difference in opinion, I have to present evidence that is bad for Mr. Jonchuck, then refute that as well."

Bolan says the prosecution doesn’t have to ask about antisocial personality disorder or borderline personality disorder. “Dr. Bursten diagnosed both of those anyway, so that’s not new to the case,” he says.

“The only way to effectively cross-examine her is to get in information that the court has already found is inadmissible,” Manuele says, standing up. She points out that to ask Lazarou questions about her evolving testimony in the morning, the public defenders would have to introduce her morning testimony, which the court has said will not make it into the trial.

She suggests Lazarou’s analysis is changing and “100 percent that shows bias and motive.”

“She’s certainly been aware of the issues,” Manuele says of the psychiatrist. “She’s been posting on her Facebook. She’s not unaware.”

“I can’t use what someone posts on their Facebook,” the judge says, sighing.

The defense asks the judge to exclude Lazarou’s testimony entirely, which they have been asking for since before the trial even started.

ZACK AND LANE (12:36 p.m.)

Greg Williams is speaking for the defense. He tells Helinger the lawyers finished their deposition of Lazarou over lunch.

The psychiatrist said her diagnosis of Jonchuck did not change, the public defender explains. She also said her opinion did not change that Jonchuck killed his daughter because he is a psychopath.

“She has taken the position that her opinion is still the same,” Williams says. And this morning, he says, the court said that opinion would not be allowed.

ZACK (12:33 p.m.)

We’re about to begin again, but first: We got Jonchuck’s latest jail log. He apparently received an electrocardiogram yesterday and his room was randomly searched. A Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office spokesman says a search like this, referred to in Jonchuck’s jail log as “shakedown,” is routine and nothing unusual was found in his room.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Chris Helinger listens to public defender Jessica Manuele during a bench conference Wednesday. SCOTT KEELER | Times
ZACK AND JOSH (11:24 p.m.)

When Helinger refers to change in testimony, she means the issue she questioned Lazarou about earlier this morning.

It seems the psychiatrist initially did not explicitly diagnose Jonchuck in her initial report with borderline personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder. The defense argues Lazarou was only going to testify to Jonchuck being a psychopath, which the judge previously said she wouldn’t allow. Therefore, the defense argued, and it sounded like the judge was inclined to agree, Lazarou had nothing to testify about.

But when Lazarou returned to the stand after the recess, she clarified she believes Jonchuck fit criteria for borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. That could change her testimony. When the judge asked, Lazarou said the psychiatric community is undecided on whether those personality disorders constitute mental illness.

It seems like, as of now, she may testify to these points in front of the jury. But the defense wants to depose her on her evolving analysis.

ZACK AND LANE (11:15 a.m.)

After the bench conference, Helinger asks deputies to bring in the jury. She lets Lazarou out. “You’re finished for now.”

The defense apparently wants to depose Lazarou about something during a break. Lazarou leaves all of her materials on the stand, including an open binder, as the jury walks in.

We’re wondering how it got to this: On day 17, they’re re-deposing a witness they argued about last year and debating ad nauseum about her credentials and what she can or can’t say.

The jury hasn’t heard from Lazarou yet. And now it’s unclear when, or maybe even if, she’ll get to testify on the record.

Jurors come in, completely unaware of what’s been happening this morning. Some sit down, only to be told to leave.

“You don’t even need to sit,” Helinger says. Be back at 1 p.m. she says. “You’re allowed to make any expression you like,” the judge says.

“It’s fine,” one juror says. They laugh on their way out of the room.

“Let’s get brunch,” one says.

“Or go shopping,” says another.

After they leave, the judge says, “We’re all very lucky we have that group of people.”

The depositions, she says, will only be about the change in Lazarou’s testimony. We’ll be back at 12:30 p.m. in case the defense has any additional arguments to make before the jury comes in.


Manuele asks Lazarou about her report on Jonchuck. “Looking at Page 1, you indicate that it is your opinion … that Mr. Jonchuck is a psychopath."

But there is no diagnosis in Lazarou’s original report for antisocial personality disorder?

Correct, Lazarou says.

Nor borderline personality disorder?

Also correct.

“As a psychopath, he stands to gain something from lying?” Manuele says. Yes.

Another section of Lazarou’s report is titled “DSM Diagnosis.” In that section, she put in psychopathy, which Lazarou admits is not a DSM diagnosis and should not have been included in that section.

“The malingering, you put that as a DSM-5 diagnosis?” asks the defense. Yes, says the psychiatrist, under a heading: “Non-adherence to medical treatment.”

Lazarou sips from a paper cup and refers to the DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Manuele is getting down to the nitty-gritty of how things are laid out in the book. Lazarou holds up the book and points to a section.

The questioning continues. The jury should be arriving at the courthouse around now. It’s unclear when the court will be ready to bring them in for more testimony, though.

“Malingering isn’t a disorder, it’s a cause for clinical concern,” the psychiatrists says. “It’s not a diagnosis.”

“Psychopathy isn’t its own entity in the DSM-5,” she says. But the DSM is constantly evolving, she says. In an “emerging section,” she says, there is some mention that psychopathy could be considered part of an antisocial personality disorder.

Ellis bounces in his chair at the prosecution table as Manuele continues her back-and-forth with the psychiatrist. It’s hard to follow where this dissection of the DSM-5 is going.

We stop for another bench conference.

Psychiatrist Emily Lazarou references the DSM-5 in court Wednesday. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Psychiatrist Emily Lazarou points to the DSM-5 in court Wednesday. SCOTT KEELER | Times
LANE (10:46 a.m.)

After one question from the defense, about the psychiatrist’s experience, the judge calls for another bench conference.

They’ve spent a lot of time huddled around her dais , whispering. Almost every statement, by every expert, seems to have to be vetted before it is said in front of the jury.

Jonchuck seems to be sinking into his chair. He’s leaning further forward, his head hangs a bit lower. He’s whispering to one of his lawyers while the rest debate with the judge.

Lazarou sits quietly to the side of the judge on the witness stand.

LANE, ZACK AND JOSH (10:40 a.m.)

The recess was supposed to end at 10:10 a.m., but it runs over.

Helinger is out of the courtroom, even as the lawyers and Jonchuck come back. Bolan stands at the lectern. Lazarou is sitting in a room just outside.

10:15 a.m., still no judge.

Two minutes later, she comes in. Bolan asks if the prosecution can put Dr. Lazarou back on the stand. She walks in carrying a thick purple binder.

“Doctor, is psychopathy a mental illness?” Bolan asks.

“No,” Lazarou replies. “Psychopathy is a clinical construct” similar to personality disorders, she says.

“Psychopathy is the most severe form of antisocial personality disorder,” she says.

Antisocial personality disorder includes impulsivity, getting into physical fights, irresponsibility, the psychiatrist says. “Someone could have antisocial personality disorder and not be psychopathic.”

“Does the defendant meet the criteria for antisocial personality disorder?” Bolan asks. “Yes,” says Lazarou.

Why? “Because he meets the criteria,” she says. Bolan asks her to explain further.

You only need three of the seven criteria to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, she says.

Ellis puts a poster board on an easel in front of Lazarou, which she looks to as she speaks.

She describes Jonchuck’s aggression and misbehavior as a child. “I know his mom took him into treatment very early on,” Lazarou says.

We’ve heard all this before. No one has disagreed that Jonchuck has antisocial personality disorder. Yet both sides keep going over these checklists and criteria again and again. At issue is whether he has mental illness, and whether he was insane at the time he killed his daughter.

“I don’t believe that he has schizophrenia or bipolar disorder,” Lazarou says. She’s unique from the other experts in this regard. Every other psychologist or psychiatrist we’ve heard from says Jonchuck has a mental illness.

Lazarou is often looking directly at Helinger as she explains her assessment of this case.

The psychiatrist says Jonchuck’s friends reported having tumultuous and sometimes violent relationships with him.

“Obviously he had some eating issues because now he’s much more fit,” Lazarou says, reading off “eating issues” as a part of one of the criteria she’s discussing after Bolan asked her about borderline personality disorder.

She also talks about Jonchuck’s extreme anger. “He attacked someone for not getting an extra muffin on a Tuesday.”

Lazarou adds: “He was concerned that people were going to get Phoebe from him.” She does not believe Jonchuck’s paranoia was psychotic, she says.

Phoebe’s mom and her new boyfriend, Jonchuck’s mom and his uncles all wanted Phoebe to come live with them.

The judge stops Bolan before he asks the next question. “I don’t know that we have to keep going,” she says. Helinger says it sounds like Lazarou has “refined” her previous testimony, apparently alleviating the issues the defense raised before the recess.

Lazarou found that Jonchuck was malingering in this case.

“Is malingering in the DSM?” Bolan asks. Yes. “What is it?”

“Producing or over-exaggerating symptoms for personal gain. Non-compliance with treatment,” the psychiatrist says.

“He was not being honest in my interview,” Lazarou says when Bolan asks her for examples of Jonchuck exhibiting antisocial personality disorder.

"Even with information that was easily obtained, collateral information, he’d have an automatic, slick response,” she says. “Either ‘I don’t know.’ Or ‘What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?’ But everything around that event he knew. That’s another example of malingering, deception.”

Bolan is done asking questions.

Helinger addresses Lazarou. She says the state asked Lazarou previously if Jonchuck suffered from mental illness and her answer was no. But now, Helinger says, Lazarou has changed her answer?

Lazarou explains only if you consider a personality disorder a mental illness.

“I don’t believe the psychiatric community is in agreement on whether it is,” Lazarou says.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a personality disorder or mental health issues, she says. “For the not guilty by reason of insanity, I don’t believe personality disorders fit,” she says. (She’s right, they don’t.)

Helinger asks another question, but it’s hard to follow. Lazarou answers, “correct,” and puts her left hand up in an “okay” sign.

Then the judge sighs.

“We’re kind of back to the same problem we had,” Helinger says.

Manuele comes up to the lectern to ask questions.

LANE, JOSH AND ZACK (9:45 a.m.)

“Did you find in this case that the defendant has mental illness?” Bolan asks. “I believe that he’s malingering those symptoms,” says the psychiatrist.

Why is psychopathy important? Bolan asks. “In my opinion, it’s the basis for which he did the crime altogether,” says Lazarou.

Then the judge sends the psychiatrist out of court again. And all the lawyers huddle around the bench.

Normally, they whisper in bench conferences. But as this one drags, prosecutor Doug Ellis and Helinger are getting louder; you can almost understand them from the back of the gallery. Jonchuck sits alone at the defense table, watching, with a deputy seated over his right shoulder.

“No, no,” Helinger is saying. Ellis turns and looks at the clock.

Manuele opens a thick three-ring binder whose pages are studded with coral-colored sticky notes. She keeps flipping pages to cite to the judge. “I know what you’re saying,” the judge keeps telling her. “I know what you’re saying.”

She calls a recess.

As the deputy leads Jonchuck out of the courtroom, one of his defense lawyers, Jane McNeill, rubs his back and smiles at him.

Psychiatrist Emily Lazarou speaks in court Wednesday. SCOTT KEELER | Times
JOSH, LANE AND ZACK (9:32 a.m.)

Wait, what?

All of a sudden, the judge asks a basic question that seems to have all the lawyers on their heels.

“Why are we doing this?”

Yesterday it seemed this exercise in having Lazarou testify outside the presence of the jury was for the defense. Now Manuele says it’s for the state.

No matter, Lazarou comes to the stand.

This is another reason this trial is taking so long. The defense lawyers in this case are challenging a lot of what the prosecutors have brought forward so far in their rebuttal.

Lazarou takes the stand, wheeling in a suitcase. While she answers questions about her education, she fidgets with the bag, removing books.

Jonchuck stares at her. Earlier in the trial, his lawyers said he was hallucinating about Lazarou. He told them he’d heard her in the jail, saying bad things about them. But the psychiatrist wasn’t in the jail. The defense has said another expert they hired said Jonchuck has some trauma related to Lazarou.

You can read about the defense’s statements here.

Prosecutor Paul Bolan, who is questioning Lazarou, asks her if she needs a minute. “I’m a multi-tasker,” she says.

She worked at Tampa General Hospital, dealing with competency on medical issues. She also worked at the Falkenburg Road Jail in Hillsborough County.

Lazarou says she was trained by her mentor, now-Brown University psychiatry professor Wade Myers, on the use of the psychopathy checklist, the PCL-R. She estimates she conducted the assessment at least 50 times while in training.

She’s been in private practice since 2008, and has administered at least 50 more PCL-R assessments during the course of her practice.

Now Lazarou is reading the requirements for those who administer the PCL-R, written by Robert Hare, a forensic psychologist who developed the assessment.

The defense is going to argue that Lazarou wasn’t properly trained to give the assessment, so the prosecution is spending a while on her background and experience.

She says she attended training with Hare himself earlier this year, and that training did not make her change her opinion of Jonchuck.

ZACK AND LANE (9:21 a.m.)

Lazarou was sitting in the back row of court, but while the lawyers debate her training, the defense asked Judge Chris Helinger to make her leave. Lazarou went to wait in an anteroom.

The defense has many issues with Lazarou’s testimony. But this morning’s debate is supposed to focus on one particular item, the psychopathy checklist we’ve already heard a lot about. The state’s other expert, psychologist Peter Bursten, used it in his evaluation of Jonchuck. He testified about the checklist, referred to as the PCL-R, at length yesterday.

Lazarou also administered the PCL-R to Jonchuck. But the defense says she was not properly trained before she did so, and thus she should not be able to testify about the checklist.

“The issues are intertwined,” says public defender Jessica Manuele. “If she can’t testify to psychopathy, what can she testify to?”

Lazarou diagnosed Jonchuck with malingering, substance abuse disorder, and said he was a psychopath. But psychopath is “not a specific diagnosis of a mental illness,” the judge says.

Malingering is the faking of symptoms. Expect to hear that term often today.

“Malingering is not a mental health diagnosis,” says the judge.

The defense last year asked Helinger to exclude Lazarou as a witness in this case. The judge ruled against them.

Read more about Lazarou here.

LANE AND ZACK (9:14 a.m.)

Jonchuck comes in in a white dress shirt and, as usual, greets the judge. A zip tie cinches the back belt loops of his pants.

Jurors won’t be in until 11 a.m.

Meanwhile lawyers will debate about upcoming testimony from psychiatrist Emily Lazarou.

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

Today will likely bring the much-anticipated testimony of psychiatrist Emily Lazarou, who is expected to double down on the prosecution’s argument that John Jonchuck was not insane when he killed his daughter, Phoebe.

The defense tried to get Lazarou thrown off the case last fall, arguing she is “very biased and coercive.” They consulted a psychiatrist of their own who questioned her professionalism and methods.


The Baylor University and University of South Florida alumna has been involved in a number of high-profile murder cases in the Tampa Bay area, including the death penalty case of Marco Parilla, who pleaded guilty to killing Tarpon Springs police officer Charles Kondek. She works primarily for the prosecution.

Lazarou’s testimony could be critical in this trial. She is the prosecution’s second expert witness to testify that Jonchuck was not insane, and therefore was culpable for the premeditated murder of Phoebe. Without Lazarou, psychologist Peter Bursten, who finished testifying Tuesday, is the state’s only expert.

The defense put on three doctors last week who argued Jonchuck fit the definition of insanity at the time he dropped his daughter off the bridge.

We expect lawyers to begin arguing about Lazarou’s testimony and qualifications at 9 a.m. — two hours before the jury was told to come back.


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