Girl, 5, dies after being thrown from bridge; father arrested
By Eliott C. McLaughlin, Ed Payne and Tina Burnside
(CNN – Jan. 9, 2015) — God will not likely be representing John Jonchuck Jr., a judge told the 25-year-old father when he appeared in court Thursday on a charge that he killed his 5-year-old daughter by throwing her off of a St. Petersburg, Florida, bridge.
During the video hearing, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Michael Andrews asked the handcuffed Jonchuk if he was able to hire his own lawyer.
“No,” Jonchuk replied.
Would he like one appointed?
Again, the reply was, “No.”
“Are you sure?” Andrews pressed.
“I want to leave it in the hands of God,” Jonchuk said.
Asked if that meant he wanted to represent himself, Jonchuk repeated his answer, to which the judge said, “Pretty sure God’s not going to be representing you in this case. You’re going to be standing trial. Would you like someone standing next to you as you’re standing trial?”
“Yes, that is pure and good, not evil,” the defendant said.
“I’m going to do the best I can to give you a pure and good lawyer,” Andrews said.
“I don’t want a court-appointed lawyer,” Jonchuk said, seeming slightly perturbed. “I want to leave it in the hands of God.”
Andrews instructed an officer to bring Jonchuk back to his courtroom Monday “to see if he wants an attorney.”
Though he ordered Jonchuk held on bonds of $10,000 each for charges of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and aggravated fleeing and eluding, Andrews ruled there would be no bond on the first-degree murder charge.
Jonchuk was arrested Thursday after a St. Petersburg police officer was driving home just after midnight and saw a car whiz past him, driving about 100 mph, authorities said.
According to the arrest affidavit, Jonchuk parked on the Dick Misener Bridge, exited, ignored the officer’s command to stay in the vehicle and reached into the right rear passenger seat where his daughter, Phoebe, was sitting.
Jonchuk “then carried the child in his arms to the side of the bridge and intentionally dropped the child into the water … then entered his vehicle and fled the scene,” the affidavit said.
The officer heard a splash and tried to climb beneath the bridge to save the girl, but the current was too strong, St. Petersburg police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez told CNN affiliate WFLA.
It’s about a 62-foot drop to the water from that point on the bridge.
Another officer tried to pull over Jonchuk’s white Chrysler PT Cruiser on Interstate 275, but the defendant allegedly “conducted a U-turn and drove directly at a backup officer’s vehicle, in which case the officer had to take evasive action to avoid a crash,” another arrest affidavit said.
Several law enforcement agencies joined the chase, including marked patrol cars with their emergency lights and sirens activated, for several miles. Jonchuk eventually stopped his vehicle in the middle of the interstate and was taken into custody, according to the affidavit.
The body of the girl was later recovered.
Jonchuck is being held at the Pinellas County Jail. Police have not disclosed a motive.
CNN’s Rick Martin and Carma Hassan contributed to this report.