Phoebe Jonchuck
Octavio Jones/Tampa Bay Times/Zuma
Steve Helling
March 03, 2017 01:49 PM

A Florida judge has ruled that John Jonchuck is competent to stand trial for allegedly throwing his 5-year-old daughter, Phoebe, off a Tampa Bay bridge in 2015, an assistant for the judge confirms to PEOPLE.

The 27-year-old Florida man faces first-degree murder charges. He was deemed incompetent in February 2015 after doctors determined that he was unable to understand the charges against him.

Jonchuck will remain at a state mental hospital until the case is closer to trial.

A Shocking Crime

The death of 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck stunned the Tampa Bay community in 2015.

John Jonchuck
Pinellas County Jail/AP

On January 8 of that year, an off-duty police officer was heading home from work when a white PT Cruiser allegedly sped past him, driving erratically at about 100 m.p.h. A brief chase ensued. The car stopped on the Dick Misener Bridge in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“The man reached into the back seat and grabbed the girl,” police spokesman Mike Puetz alleged to PEOPLE at the time. “Then he threw her over the railing and into the water.”

The officer says he heard a splash as the girl fell 62 feet into the water below. He radioed for help and climbed over the railing himself, hoping to rescue the child. “He couldn’t see her, because the current is extremely strong there,” said Puetz.

A rescue team found Phoebe’s dead body in the dark waters about an hour later.

A History of Mental Illness

Just hours before Phoebe’s death, police had questioned Jonchuck for allegedly acting erratically. Jonchuck’s attorney — with whom Jonchuck had been meeting in reference to a custody dispute — had called 911 after observing Jonchuck’s behavior.

The Department of Children and Families hotline also received a call voicing concerns that Jonchuck was unstable. DCF placed a notation about the call in a file for a caseworker to handle at a later date. Twelve hours later, Phoebe was dead.

During his first interview with detectives after the incident, Jonchuck said, “My name is God and you shall address me as such.” His mother told cops that her son struggled with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He had not been taking his medicine.

During a subsequent hearing , two court-appointed doctors told Pinellas County circuit Judge Christine Hellinger that Jonachuk was “mentally incompetent.”

Now that Jonchuck has been found competent, the prosecution will prepare a case against him. Jonchuck has previously declined to have an attorney, but is being represented by the Public Defender’s Office. PEOPLE was not immediately able to reach an attorney for him.

Prosecutors hope to bring Jonchuck to trial this fall.

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