Judge to decide on Florida face-biter insanity plea

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A former faculty 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 choose deciding whether or not he goes to jail for all times or to a psychological hospital.

Austin Harrouff, 25, has pleaded not responsible by motive of madness to 2 counts of first-degree homicide and different expenses 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 support.

The trial has been delayed by the pandemic, authorized wranglings and Harrouff’s restoration from important accidents suffered whereas ingesting a chemical throughout the assault. Will probably 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 in search of remark. Harrouff’s lead lawyer, Robert Watson, declined remark.

Below 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 flawed by “clear and convincing proof.” Harrouff has stated he was fleeing a demon when he attacked the couple.

If convicted, Harrouff might be sentenced to life in jail with out the potential of parole; prosecutors waived the loss of life penalty.

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If Harrouff is dominated insane, Bauer will commit him to a safe psychological hospital till medical doctors and a choose agree that he’s now not harmful. That may additionally successfully be a life sentence, stated Craig Trocino, a College of Miami regulation professor, as a result of “it is extremely unlikely” that medical doctors and a choose 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 throughout the assault. In addition they discovered that he could not distinguish between proper and flawed.

Prosecutors then employed a second professional who stated Harrouff was sane, however just lately withdrew him saying he has critical well being points. They now have a 3rd professional who believes Harrouff was on a drug that did not seem in post-arrest exams, however has not examined him.

Lea Johnston, a College of Florida regulation professor, stated that solely about 1% of felony defendants attempt 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 stated for madness defenses that attain trial, defendants who waive a jury have probably the most success. Judges perceive the system, she stated, whereas jurors usually fear that defendants acquitted by motive of madness might be launched sooner. In addition they could query whether or not therapy at a psychological hospital works.

“There’s a long time of analysis displaying that (the general public) is biased in opposition to the madness protection and it’s broadly misunderstood,” she stated.

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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 learning 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 did not shoot him as a result of they feared hitting Stevens.

Harrouff practically died from chemical compounds he drank within the storage, which burned his digestive system.

Investigators discovered he bought some hallucinogenic mushrooms just a few days earlier than the assault, however buddies stated he destroyed them and no hint was present in his blood. He additionally did Google searches for “how you can know in case you are going loopy.”

Harrouff’s dad and mom, who’re divorced, and others stated he had acted surprisingly 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 evening of the slayings his son left a restaurant the place that they had been consuming with out clarification. He walked two miles (three kilometers) 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 stated, “What’s flawed with you?” He stated his son raised his fist, however Wade Harrouff’s girlfriend instructed him to cease and he left.

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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.

Nevertheless it was too late — Harrouff walked or ran the 4 miles (six kilometers) to the Stevens’ residence.

Austin Harrouff instructed McGraw he was escaping a demon he referred to as Daniel and solely has obscure recollections of the slayings.

He stated he encountered Michelle Stevens within the couple’s storage. She screamed, and “then it’s a blur.”

“I don’t bear in mind what she stated — I simply bear in mind being yelled at,” Harrouff stated. He stated he grabbed a machete, however doesn’t bear in mind why he killed her and her husband.

“It’s prefer it occurred, however I wasn’t conscious of it,” Harrouff stated.