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Mental Illness the Focus of Child Murder Case

John Jonchuck
Associated Press
John Jonchuck
John Jonchuck
Credit Associated Press
John Jonchuck

 A father accused of throwing his 5-year-old daughter off of a bridge to her death last week was ordered Monday to undergo a mental health evaluation and was appointed a public defender.

John Jonchuck appeared to refuse to answer questions during the hearing in Pinellas County. When a judge asked Jonchuck at a first appearance hearing last week if he wanted a court-appointed attorney, Jonchuck said he wanted to "leave it in the hands of God."

Jonchuck is facing charges of first degree murder, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, and aggravated fleeing and alluding. Police say Jonchuck's daughter Phoebe was likely alive when her father dropped her over the bridge railing, sending her into the waters of Tampa Bay.

He is scheduled to be back in court next month.

Also on Monday, Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll pledged to do more to protect children across the state in the wake of the killing. Carroll says that mental illness is a major concern when investigating parents, and it's not always clear when action needs to be taken.

"We have lots of folks who have a mental illness that can be effective parents as long as they're effectively dealing with their mental illness," Carroll said during a news conference.

In an immediate response to the death of Phoebe Jonchuck, DCF enacted new protocols that Carroll said should offer an extra layer of protection. Now, if a call is made that indicates a caretaker is having a psychotic episode, a child protective investigator must conduct a visit within four hours and notify law enforcement.

An investigation into why Phoebe was killed is currently being conducted and is expected to take about a month.

Health News Florida intern Megan Milanese is part of WUSF Public Media in Tampa. Health News Florida receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2015 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Megan Milanese is an intern with WUSF’s health reporting project Health News Florida.