The Florida man charged of randomly killing a couple in their garage six years ago – and gnawing one of the victims’ face afterwards – was found not guilty by reason of insanity on Monday and will be committed to a facility of mental health.
Austin Harrouff, 25, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to two counts of first degree murder and other charges for the 2016 murders of John Stevens, 59, and his wife, Michelle Mishcon Stevens, 53.
He also seriously injured a neighbor who tried to help them, prosecutors said.
A judge accepted the plea deal on Monday. Harrouff, who attended Florida State University before the attack, will be committed to a secure mental health facility until doctors and a judge agree he is no longer dangerous.
Had the trial gone ahead, Harrouff could have faced life in prison.
The police would have found Harrouff, who was 19 at the time, nearly naked and biting John Stevens’ face, WPLG reported. He did not know his victims and reportedly claimed he believed he was being chased by a demon.
In a 38-page mental health report released by the Martin County State’s Attorney’s Office in 2019, forensic psychologist Dr. Phillip Resnick concluded that Harrouff believed he was “mid- dog, half man” during the attack.
Investigators discovered that Harrouff had purchased hallucinogenic mushrooms several days before the attack, but authorities said no traces of drugs were found in his blood that night.
Several family members of the slain couple expressed their anger at the decision and gave victim impact statements.
Cindy Mishcon, Michelle Mishcon’s sister and attorney, has methodically explained why she didn’t believe Harrouff was insane at the time of the murders.
“Can’t you even look at me? she asked Harrouff, who was seated at the defense table, dressed in a red-and-white-striped prison uniform and glasses. She said she started writing her victim impact statement when she was “naive enough” to think justice would be served.
Cindy Mishcon said reality set in for her as she listened to recordings of Harrouff prison phone calls with family members and read pages of text messages in the year leading up to the murders, which were part of the court record. The text messages with his friends described the life of a college student who smoked marijuana, took other drugs and abused alcohol in the year before he killed the couple.
She said she realized that “you don’t care about anyone but yourself” and that “the only victim you and your family see is you and the name Harrouff”.
“Is it really so difficult for you to understand that you are a cold-blooded murderer not a victim,” she asked. Other family members echoed his sentiments.
The defense-prosecution agreement avoided a trial that was due to begin Monday before Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer and was expected to last three weeks.
The judge declared that Harrouff would remain in the Martin County Jail until he was taken to a secure mental health facility monitored by the Florida Department of Children and Families. Bauer said he would not be allowed to leave the facility without a court order.
Two mental health experts, one hired by the defense and the other by prosecutors, examined Harrouff and found that he had suffered an acute psychotic episode during the attack and could not do the distinction between good and evil. The trial had been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, legal wrangling and Harrouff’s recovery from serious injuries sustained while drinking a chemical in the attack.
Defendants are presumed sane under Florida law, which means Harrouff must show that he had a severe nervous breakdown that prevented him from understanding the actions or that they were even wrong by evidence” clear and convincing.
Craig Trocino, a law professor at the University of Miami, said finding Harrouff not guilty by reason of insanity would effectively be a life sentence because “it’s highly unlikely” they would risk releasing a killer as notorious as Harrouff. .
Harrouff’s parents and others said he had been acting strangely for weeks. His parents said they had made an appointment for him to be evaluated, but the attack happened first.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.