Angry Families Object as Judge Accepts Face-Biting Killer's Plea

Austin Harrouff will be committed to secure mental institution
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 28, 2022 4:28 PM CST
Judge Accepts Insanity Plea From Face-Biting Killer
This Oct. 3, 2016, photo provided by the Martin County Sheriff's Office, shows Austin Harrouff.   (Martin County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)

A Florida man who stabbed a couple to death six years ago and was found chewing on the man's face was insane at the time, a judge ruled Monday, canceling a trial that was expected to last several weeks. Former Florida State University student Austin Harrouff, 25, was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 2016 murders and will be committed to a secure mental health facility, TCPalm reports. He faced charges including first-degree murder in the deaths of John Stevens, 59, and his wife, Michelle Mishcon Stevens, 53. Prosecutors said Harrouff, who did not know the victims, also injured a neighbor who tried to help the couple.

Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer accepted a plea deal, saying two mental health experts, one hired by the defense and one hired by prosecutors, had agreed that Harrouff had been undergoing a psychotic episode at the time of the attack and couldn't tell right from wrong, the AP reports. Harrouff—who claimed he was fleeing a demon at the time of the attack—could someday be released if doctors and a judge agree he is no longer dangerous, though experts say it's highly unlikely it will ever happen. The court heard around two hours of statements from family members of the victims Monday. Some of them expressed anger at the judge's decision.

Cindy Mishcon, Michelle Mishcon Stevens' sister, told Harrouff he is a "cold-blooded murderer and not a victim." Mishcon, an attorney, said evidence including Harrouff's texts from the year leading up to the murders and jailhouse phone calls showed he was not insane. "It's a sad case, it's an awful case," the judge said. "Nobody is losing sight—I tell you I know I'm not—of the deaths and injuries that were sustained in this case," he said. "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." (Read more insanity defense stories.)

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