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Prosecutors rest after quick case. Now the trial of John Jonchuck gets complicated.

 
Defendant John Jonchuck, right, reacts in court Wednesday as photographs are shown to the jury of the body of his daughter, Phoebe, and the injuries she suffered when he dropped the 5-year-old off a bridge in 2015 to her death. On the left is Pinellas-Pasco Assistant Public Defender Greg Williams. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
Defendant John Jonchuck, right, reacts in court Wednesday as photographs are shown to the jury of the body of his daughter, Phoebe, and the injuries she suffered when he dropped the 5-year-old off a bridge in 2015 to her death. On the left is Pinellas-Pasco Assistant Public Defender Greg Williams. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published March 28, 2019

LARGO — In a trial that is scheduled to take up to a month, where simply picking a jury took an entire week, prosecutors needed only two full days of testimony to make their first-degree murder case against John Jonchuck.

Prosecutors rested the case Wednesday after a parade of law enforcement officers walked through 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck's fall off the Dick Misener Bridge and her father's apprehension shortly thereafter.

The case could move so quickly, Pinellas criminal defense lawyer Jay Hebert said, because sworn law enforcement officers saw every detail that night.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: The trial of John Jonchuck: Daily live blog and everything you need to know about the case

THE LATEST: John Jonchuck's mother testifies as her son stands trial for her granddaughter's murder

LIVE BLOG: The Trial of John Jonchuck, Day 8: Proving the murder

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

THE VICTIM: The Long Fall of Phoebe Jonchuck

"How many homicides do you have with the victim in the water and an eyewitness that saw it happen?" Hebert said. "I think the government wanted to be clean, timeline-oriented, very straightforward."

On Monday, prosecutors started their narrative with Jan. 8, 2015, Jonchuck on the bridge, within sight of St. Petersburg Police Officer William "Drew" Vickers. They called Vickers to describe how, with his gun drawn, he watched Jonchuck drop his daughter.

More officers took the stand Tuesday. They had watched Jonchuck flee, make a U-turn on the interstate, and keep driving. The officers told the jury they watched him come to a stop, held him at gunpoint, dragged him from a window. They watched him in jail, in patrol cars. They heard him admit he dropped his daughter.

On Wednesday, prosecutors called the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on Phoebe. Lawyers screened photos of her back and legs, deep purple and red bruises swirling like waves across her skin. Dr. Christopher Wilson said she had hit something, he didn't know what, during her fall. Those bruises could only have been formed if she were alive as she dropped, he said. In the only photo shown of Phoebe's face, jurors saw her bottom row of baby teeth behind blue lips.

Jonchuck's lawyer put her hand on his back. He took a coarse brown napkin and dabbed at his eyes. He put his chin in his palms.

It's hard to prove murder without a body, and Wednesday's testimony delivered just that.

All the evidence made an easy thread for the jury to follow. Such a well-documented case meant there was never room for an alibi defense, never doubt that police arrested the right guy, never a question about what happened, Hebert said.

Prosecutors brought "the what" to the jurors — and had an easy job doing it. It's never been in dispute.

Now the defense — which is arguing Jonchuck was insane when he let Phoebe go — has to give jurors "the why."

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They started Wednesday afternoon, calling former St. Petersburg police Sgt. Theresa Hubble, who recalled Jonchuck referring to himself as the "fallen angel Michael."

They also called back Officer Troy Harper, who read off-kilter text messages Jonchuck had sent to his uncle in the days before he killed Phoebe.

The defense then called Jonchuck's father, John Jonchuck Sr., who testified that he believes his son's mother used drugs when she was pregnant. He also said John Jr. was put into involuntary custody under the Baker Act three to five times when he was deemed a threat to himself or others.

A juror wrote down a question for Jonchuck's father, and the judge read it aloud: "Can we ask what dates he was Baker Acted in the past, or what the reasons were?"

"Once, I Baker Acted him," John Jonchuck Sr. said. "That was because he attacked me. Another time I think they Baker Acted him because he stabbed himself in the arm, and another time I know he had himself Baker Acted..." he mumbled.

As John Sr. left the courtroom, neither he nor his son looked at each other.

The defense followed with Tara Velez, a woman who had recognized Jonchuck's mugshot on the news, hours after Phoebe died. She described that man pacing in front of her South Tampa apartment on Jan. 7, holding a little girl's hand. The child wore shorts, no shoes, in the cold.

"Something wasn't right," she said. "He looked like somebody who had 1,000 thoughts running through their head."

Last she saw, he put the girl in the car and drove away.

Defense lawyers will continue Thursday, likely calling Jonchuck's mother again as well as his custody lawyer and expert witnesses, to try to show jurors his mental state had deteriorated.

"The part that's going to take a long time," said Pinellas criminal defense lawyer Bjorn Brunvand, "is when you start calling the experts."

After that, prosecutors will get a chance to call their own experts to try to dismantle the assertion that Jonchuck was insane. They'll present their "whys."

Contact Josh Solomon at jsolomon@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4613. Follow @ByJoshSolomon. Contact Claire McNeill at (727) 893-8321 or cmcneill@tampabay.com. Follow @clairemcneill. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at (727) 893-8804 or zsampson@tampabay.com. Follow @zacksampson.