Michele Jonchuck got the news when her brother called. She said she was “kind of surprised” at the verdict, but glad the jurors ruled as they did in the murder trial of her son, John Jonchuck.
Jonchuck, now 29, was convicted Tuesday of first-degree murder in the death of his daughter, 5-year-old Phoebe. He dropped the girl 62 feet off a bridge into Tampa Bay.
“Only God knows if he did it on purpose, or if he’s just sick,” Michele Jonchuck said by phone, her voice breaking. “But if he did do that to my precious princess angel, he deserves to rot in f------ hell.”
At first, she said, she thought her son was just sick. “I hoped maybe he just needed more treatment,” she said. “Then he started playing his games again in court,” saying he was hallucinating and hearing voices. “I don’t believe that,” she said.
The verdict, she said, brings some justice to Phoebe, but doesn’t make her feel any better. “That little girl loved him very much,” she said. “I still blame myself for not taking her that night.”
Phoebe died Jan. 8, 2015.
Her grandmother said she’d like to thank the jurors “for making the decision you did.”
In the four years since the murder, Michele Jonchuck has only seen her son a few times — once when she went to visit him in the mental health hospital, and in court three weeks ago when she testified during his trial. “He looked terrible,” she said, referring to all the weight he’s lost.
She said she wants to see her son again before he goes to prison for the rest of his life. “I want to tell him I love him, because he’s my son,” she said through tears. “But when it comes to what he’s done, I hate him. He took my sunshine away.”
Jonchuck’s uncle, Bryan Morris, and his partner, Tim Maynard, helped raise Jonchuck and wanted to adopt Phoebe. He said he wished Jonchuck had gotten the death penalty. But since that was not an option, he said he’s glad Jonchuck is going to prison for life. “He got the absolute minimum he deserves,” he said of the sentence. “He can rot in hell.”
Morris and his partner wanted to testify at the trial, and were sequestered throughout the proceedings in case they got called as witnesses. “But the judge didn’t want his character to be brought up. And we had nothing good to say about his character,” Morris said.
If they had been able to talk, he said, they would have told jurors, “I truly in my heart feel that he did that intentionally to get back at his mother and Phoebe’s mother.”
Morris said he was “amazed” that police never drug tested Jonchuck on the night he dropped his daughter off the bridge. And he was upset no one ever got all the messages and search information off Jonchuck’s phone. “They would’ve seen a lot of research about how to act insane,” he said. “I do believe he had some mental illness. But I don’t believe he’s insane. There’s no better way to put it: He’s a great actor.”
Morris said he and Maynard had long “been afraid he was going to hurt someone. But I thought it would be Michelle Kerr or my sister,” he said. “I never, ever thought it would be Phoebe. He was a good father. He loved her. But he was an evil person. A very evil person."