FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A former school scholar who randomly killed a Florida couple of their storage six years in the past after which chewed on one sufferer’s face lastly goes on trial Monday, with a decide deciding whether or not he goes to jail for all times or to a psychological hospital.
Austin Harrouff, 25, has pleaded not responsible by cause of madness to 2 counts of first-degree homicide and different fees for his August 2016 slayings of John Stevens, a 59-year-old landscaper, and his 53-year-old spouse, Michelle Mishcon Stevens, who had retired after working in finance.
The previous Florida State College scholar has waived a jury trial, that means Circuit Choose Sherwood Bauer will resolve whether or not Harrouff was insane when he killed the couple, and severely injured the neighbor who got here to their help.
The trial has been delayed by the pandemic, authorized wranglings and Harrouff’s restoration from crucial accidents suffered whereas consuming a chemical in the course of the assault. It will likely be in Stuart, an hour drive north of West Palm Seaside, and final about three weeks.
Prosecutor Brandon White didn’t reply to a name and electronic mail looking for remark. Harrouff’s lead lawyer, Robert Watson, declined remark.
Beneath Florida regulation, defendants are presumed sane. For Harrouff’s protection to succeed, Watson should present that he had a extreme psychological breakdown that prevented him from understanding his actions or that they had been unsuitable by “clear and convincing proof.” Harrouff has mentioned he was fleeing a demon when he attacked the couple.
If convicted, Harrouff might be sentenced to life in jail with out the potential for parole; prosecutors waived the dying penalty.
If Harrouff is dominated insane, Bauer will commit him to a safe psychological hospital till docs and a decide agree that he’s not harmful. That might additionally successfully be a life sentence, mentioned Craig Trocino, a College of Miami regulation professor, as a result of “it’s extremely unlikely” that docs and a decide would threat releasing a killer as infamous as Harrouff.
Two psychological well being consultants, one employed by prosecutors and one by the protection, examined Harrouff and located that he suffered an acute psychotic episode in the course of the assault. Additionally they discovered that he couldn’t distinguish between proper and unsuitable.
Prosecutors then employed a second knowledgeable who mentioned Harrouff was sane, however just lately withdrew him saying he has severe well being points. They now have a 3rd knowledgeable who believes Harrouff was on a drug that didn’t seem in post-arrest checks, however has not examined him.
Lea Johnston, a College of Florida regulation professor, mentioned that solely about 1% of felony defendants strive an madness protection as a result of the bar to succeed is so excessive. A couple of quarter of these succeed, often in a pretrial deal the place prosecutors agree that the defendant’s psychological sickness meets the usual.
She mentioned for madness defenses that attain trial, defendants who waive a jury have essentially the most success. Judges perceive the system, she mentioned, whereas jurors usually fear that defendants acquitted by cause of madness might be launched sooner. Additionally they could query whether or not therapy at a psychological hospital works.
“There may be a long time of analysis exhibiting that (the general public) is biased towards the madness protection and it’s extensively misunderstood,” she mentioned.
Harrouff’s assault made nationwide headlines due to its brutality and randomness; he didn’t know the victims. He was a 19-year-old with no legal file — a former highschool soccer participant and wrestler who was finding out train science. He stripped practically bare and attacked the couple of their open storage with instruments that he discovered there. When police arrived, Harrouff was biting chunks off John Stevens’ face.
It took took a number of officers, an electrical stun gun and a police canine to subdue Harrouff. Officers didn’t shoot him as a result of they feared hitting Stevens.
Harrouff practically died from chemical substances he drank within the storage, which burned his digestive system.
Investigators discovered he bought some hallucinogenic mushrooms a couple of days earlier than the assault, however pals mentioned he destroyed them and no hint was present in his blood. He additionally did Google searches for “the best way to know in case you are going loopy.”
Harrouff’s dad and mom, who’re divorced, and others mentioned he had acted unusually for weeks. His dad and mom had arrange an appointment for him to be evaluated, however the assault occurred first.
His father, Wade Harrouff, instructed TV psychologist Phil McGraw that on the night time of the slayings his son left a restaurant the place they’d been consuming with out rationalization. He walked two miles to his mom’s home and tried to drink cooking oil. Mina Harrouff stopped him, however he poured the oil right into a bowl with Parmesan cheese and ate it.
She introduced him again to the restaurant. Wade Harrouff, a dentist, instructed McGraw he grabbed his son and mentioned, “What’s unsuitable with you?” He mentioned his son raised his fist, however Wade Harrouff’s girlfriend instructed him to cease and he left.
The restaurant’s safety video exhibits Austin Harrouff calmly exiting about 45 minutes earlier than the assault. His mom, earlier than figuring out of the assault, referred to as 911 and instructed the dispatcher her son appeared delusional, claiming to have superpowers and that demons had been in her home.
However it was too late — Harrouff walked or ran the 4 miles to the Stevens’ house.
Austin Harrouff instructed McGraw he was escaping a demon he referred to as Daniel and solely has obscure recollections of the slayings.
He mentioned he encountered Michelle Stevens within the couple’s storage. She screamed, and “then it’s a blur.”
“I don’t keep in mind what she mentioned — I simply keep in mind being yelled at,” Harrouff mentioned. He mentioned he grabbed a machete, however doesn’t keep in mind why he killed her and her husband.
“It’s prefer it occurred, however I wasn’t conscious of it,” Harrouff mentioned.