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Stuart: Austin Harrouff Found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

Austin Harrouff.jpg
Martin County Sheriff's Office
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Austin Harrouff

Stuart - Monday November 28, 2022: The Associated Press reports that Florida Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer has accepted a plea deal for a man who randomly killed a Florida couple in their garage six years ago and then chewed on the face of one of the victims.

Twenty-five-year-old Austin Harrouff pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to two counts of first-degree murder and other charges for the 2016 slayings of 59-year-old John Stevens and his wife, 53-year-old Michelle Mishcon Stevens.

The agreement avoids a trial that had been scheduled to start Monday, November 28. He could have faced life in prison if convicted at trial.

Judge Bauer said Harrouff will remain in the Martin County Jail until he is taken to a secure mental health facility monitored by the Florida Department of Children and Families. Bauer said he will not be allowed to leave the facility until doctors and a judge agree that he is no longer dangerous.

A number of family members of the slain couple expressed anger at the decision.

Harrouff's attorney, Nellie L. King, released the following statement after the below::

"Although the not guilty by reason of insanity result in the Austin Harrouff case fails to bring comfort to the families of the victims, this finding brings this matter to its right and lawful end. Two experts, one for the defense and one for the State, determined Austin was experiencing a psychotic break at the time of the homicides and lacked the intent necessary to be criminally responsible for his conduct. The State's expert also conducted Neuropsychological testing which indicated Austin was not exaggerating or feigning his mental disorder.

This case was always about mental illness. Austin was a 19-year-old college student at FSU with good grades, a gentle demeanor, a penchant for working out, and no prior criminal record. He could be anyone’s son, brother, neighbor, friend. But, the mind is a powerful thing. Austin started to mentally decompensate in the weeks, days, and moments leading up to the incident. He became grandiose and paranoid, his behavior extreme and out of character. Things happened rapidly, with Austin experiencing such severe hallucinations and delusions at the time of the offense that he was incapable of making rational and voluntary choices. The unthinkable violence happened in this case not by choice, intention, or with an identifiable motive, but because Austin has a mental disease.

It is a high burden, clear and convincing evidence, for the defense to establish a client is legally insane in Florida. The facts and the evidence here warrant such a finding, however. The false narrative advanced by the State that the homicides were the result of Austin ingesting Flakka, or bath salts, was debunked repeatedly. Not only did defense experts refute this theory, but the State sent evidence specimens to two different drug testing facilities on three different occasions only to have negative results tendered each time.

The result of the court’s finding that Austin was legally insane at the time of the crimes is that he will be committed to the Department of Children and Families and sent to a secure mental health facility. There, Austin will receive the mental health treatment he needs, as provided by law, instead of prison. He will be monitored by doctors and other trained professionals.

Austin must also contend with the pain he has caused the families. Upon learning of the events of that night, Austin has sought answers for the grief and anguish caused by his actions. Austin is extremely remorseful for all that has occurred; for being at the center of this episode which has caused such unthinkable pain and devastating loss. This six-year journey for Austin has been guided by his faith, a sincere amenability to treatment, and a desire to learn how to cope with the past that now defines him, as well as the thoughts of the victims and their families which are ever-present in his life."