A hearing Monday morning in the murder trial of 25-year-old Austin Harrouff—the infamous Florida “face eater” accused of fatally stabbing a random couple and attacking another stranger in 2016—was over in minutes after a judge accepted a last-second plea deal.
Harrouff pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer accepted the deal, which was reportedly agreed upon by prosecutors and Harrouff’s defense attorneys in South Florida.
Harrouff will be sent to a secure mental hospital indefinitely—until doctors and a judge deem he is no longer a public threat, reported WPTV5. Had the trial gone forward, Harrouff faced a life sentence in prison if convicted.
Monday was supposed to be the first day of an approximately three-week trial in the deaths of John Stevens, 59, and his 53-year-old wife, Michelle Mishcon Stevens. Family members of the couple were inside the courtroom when the deal was struck and were “extremely upset” at the judge’s decision to accept it, reported Court TV.
Harrouff, a 19-year-old Florida State University student at the time of the attack, had no prior criminal history before police arrived at the Stevens’ home to allegedly witness Harrouff biting chunks off John’s face while stripped nearly naked. Police said Harrouff had stabbed the couple to death and nearly killed their neighbor, Jeffrey Fisher, who rushed over to help.
Police said the couple was murdered in their garage. Harrouff faced two counts of first-degree murder and other charges for the slayings, but repeatedly had his trial delayed by the pandemic and his own recovery from critical injuries he sustained in the attack by consuming a chemical.
The slayings garnered national attention—largely because the attack was gruesome and random, but also because of a theory that Harrouff may have been high on bath salts or the synthetic drug flakka at the time of the murder.
An attorney representing Harrouff shot down that theory in 2018, however, saying his client had consumed neither. West Palm Beach attorney Nellie King said in a statement Harrouff had been suffering from mental health struggles “for weeks” before the attack.
First responders described the incident as being particularly deranged, with one responding Martin County fire and rescue employee noting that Harrouff was “grunting and making animal type noises” as he was in handcuffs on the ground, reported TC Palm, citing court docs.
That same employee reported that Harrouff had “large chunks of flesh and hair” in his teeth. He’d told the worker he “smoked some weed” and “drank some alcohol” before the attack, records said.
It was this behavior that led Dr. Phillip Resnick, an expert for the defense, to state in 2019 that Harrouff was “actively psychotic,” reported Law & Crime. Resnick determined Harrouff suffered from clinical lycanthropy—a a psychiatric syndrome where a human believes they’re turning into a wolf.
“The fact that Mr. Harrouff persisted in biting the male victim in the presence of police officers, in spite of threats of being shot, being tased and receiving multiple kicks to the head, suggests that Mr. Harrouff was actively psychotic,” Dr. Phillip Resnick wrote in a report released by the Martin County State Attorney’s Office, reported the The Palm Beach Post.
Experts for the prosecution agreed that Harrouff was clinically insane, writing in a 2020 report obtained by Law & Crime that Harrouff had no way of distinguishing “right from wrong.”
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