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A Florida man who murdered a couple six years ago will not serve any jail time after a judge accepted his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
On Monday, Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer accepted that Austin Harrouff, 25, was not guilty by reason of insanity for the vicious 2016 slaying of John Stevens III, 59, and his wife, Michelle Mishcon Stevens, 53. According to reports, Harrouff, who was then 19, wore almost no clothing when he broke into the couple’s garage and murdered them. At some point during the crime, Harrouff even gnawed on John Stevens’ face.
There is no known connection between Harrouff and the couple, and investigators believe Harrouff attacked them at random.
To avoid a lengthy jury trial, prosecutors and defense teams got together and agreed to allow Bauer to determine whether Harrouff met the legal threshold for insanity at the time of incident. Though all Florida defendants are presumed sane unless “clear and convincing” evidence suggests otherwise, Bauer ultimately determined that Harrouff was legally insane when he committed the offenses.
According to Fox News, two mental health experts, one hired by the state and one hired by the defense, agreed that Harrouff experienced “an acute psychotic episode” that day back in 2016. Dr. Phillip Resnick explained in a mental health report released by the Martin County State Attorney’s Office in 2019 that Harrouff believed during the attack that he was “half-dog, half-man.”
Other reports indicate that Harrouff believed during the attack that a demon was chasing him.
For the attacks against Mr. and Mrs. Stevens, Harrouff had been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and burglary of a dwelling with assault or battery while armed. He was also charged with attempted first-degree murder with a weapon for stabbing Jeffrey Fisher, a neighbor who had come over to assist the Stevens after they had been attacked. Fisher is said to be recovering from his injuries.
If the case had gone to trial, Harrouff would have faced life in prison, if convicted. On Monday, Bauer told the court that Harrouff would be committed to a secure mental health facility until doctors and a judge determined that he no longer posed a safety risk to the community.
“It’s a sad case, it’s an awful case. Nobody is losing sight – I tell you, I know I’m not – of the deaths and injuries that were sustained in this case,” Bauer stated. “But when it all gets said and done, the state and the defense have made the determination that mental intent was not formulated. It wasn’t there, and therefore, the defendant is technically not guilty by reason of insanity.”
Despite the fact that the judge ruled to commit Harrouff to a secure facility and that attorneys for the state and the defense agreed to the outcome, many of the victims’ family members expressed their outrage at the hearing.
“Is it really so hard for you to understand that you are a cold-blooded murderer and not a victim?” one woman asked Harrouff rhetorically.
During her victim statement, Cindy Mishcon, the sister of Michelle Mishcon Stevens, claimed that Harrouff doesn’t care about anyone but himself and that Harrouff’s family cares only about “the Harrouff name.”
Mishcon also claimed to have pored over various court records and determined that Harrouff, a former Florida State University student, spent much of his time abusing drugs, including alcohol and marijuana. Investigators did find that Harrouff had purchased hallucinogenic mushrooms in the days prior to the incident, but did not find any of the mushrooms in his system the day of the attack.
“I hate what you did,” Mishcon added, casting blame on Harrouff and his parents alike. “I really think you deserve to die, Austin.”
Harrouff’s parents alleged that their son had been having problems in the weeks and months leading up to the attack. They had scheduled for him to receive an evaluation, but the murders occurred before it could take place.
University of Miami law professor Craig Trocino told Fox News that Harrouff’s mental health facility confinement would likely amount to a life sentence since, in his opinion, “it’s highly unlikely” a judge would ever release a violent killer.
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