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US Florida man who killed couple and tried to eat a victim's face declared insane, not guilty

21:01  30 november  2022
21:01  30 november  2022 Source:   usatoday.com

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STUART, Florida –  A judge Monday ruled that accused killer Austin Harrouff is not guilty by reason of insanity in the 2016 murders of a couple at their Florida home.

Harrouff, 25, fatally stabbed John Stevens III, 59, and Michelle Mishcon, 53, in a vicious and random attack that included injuring their neighbor Jeffrey Fisher, who tried to help the couple.

The killings took place in Tequesta in southern Martin County in the Port St. Lucie area.

The Florida State University student, then 19, was found biting and chewing on Stevens' face in the man's driveway, and detectives recovered what appeared to be flesh from Harrouff's teeth. Deputies reported Harrouff was walking to his father's home in the neighborhood when he targeted Stevens III and Mishcon.

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A medical examiner who performed the autopsies on Stevens III and Mishcon stated they died quickly because of the extent of their multiple injuries, records show.

Investigators said an extreme amount of force, including Taser use, a police dog and multiple law enforcement officials, was necessary to subdue Harrouff.

His defense team signaled early in the case they would seek an acquittal by reason of insanity. For that to happen, Harrouff had to convince a judge he didn't know what he was doing at the time of the murders, or didn’t know it was wrong, and couldn’t appreciate the consequences of his actions.

Two psychologists — one hired by the state and one for the defense – concluded that during the murders Harrouff was suffering an “acute psychotic episode.”

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Harrouff, the experts found, was “unable to distinguish right from wrong,” meaning he meets Florida’s criteria to be acquitted by reason of insanity.

Hours of testimony from families

Before Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer ruled, he listened to nearly two hours of sometimes angry and distraught comments from the families of Stevens and Mishcon, who often spoke directly to Harrouff as he sat motionless with three defense attorneys.

Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer listens to the comments from family member of the victims during a court proceeding for accused killer Austin Harrouff at the Martin County Courthouse on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022 in Stuart, Florida. Harrouff was found not guilty by reason of insanity for killing John Stevens III, 59 and Michelle Mishcon, 53, during a brutal attack Aug. 15, 2016 at their home on Southeast Kokomo Lane in southern Martin County. © ERIC HASERT/TCPALM Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer listens to the comments from family member of the victims during a court proceeding for accused killer Austin Harrouff at the Martin County Courthouse on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022 in Stuart, Florida. Harrouff was found not guilty by reason of insanity for killing John Stevens III, 59 and Michelle Mishcon, 53, during a brutal attack Aug. 15, 2016 at their home on Southeast Kokomo Lane in southern Martin County.

Cindy Mishcon, Michelle Mishcon’s sister, spent several minutes reading aloud dozens and dozens of drug- and alcohol-related text messages Harrouff sent to college friends and a girlfriend in the months leading up to the murders. He repeatedly commented on being drunk to the point of blacking out and about his nearly daily drug use.

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Cindy Mishcon, sister of murder victim Michelle Mishcon, reads her statement about killer Austin Harrouff during a court proceeding before Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer at the Martin County Courthouse on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022 in Stuart, Fla. © ERIC HASERT/TCPALM Cindy Mishcon, sister of murder victim Michelle Mishcon, reads her statement about killer Austin Harrouff during a court proceeding before Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer at the Martin County Courthouse on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022 in Stuart, Fla.

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She also relayed the content of numerous recorded jail phone calls Harrouff had with family members that she said seemed to disparage Stevens III and Mishcon and minimized his role in the murders.

“I quickly realized from listening to those calls that you don't care … about how your actions have affected my family. You don't care that you murdered my parents’ firstborn child,” Cindy Mishcon said.

She insisted Harrouff was not insane when he committed the homicides. She called the findings of the mental health experts “outright lies.”

“Here we are opening the prison doors for a double murderer,” she said. “Four words come to mind: White rich boy justice.”

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Harrouff’s family, including his parents, sister and grandmother sat silent in court, often with their heads down as Mishcon’s relatives spoke.

Jodi Bruce, who is Michelle Mishcon’s sister, lamented the nightmares, sleepless nights and “so, so many tears,” shed since the murders.

Jodi Bruce, sister of murder victim Michelle Mishcon, comments on a photo of Michelle projected to the court during a court proceeding before Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer at the Martin County Courthouse on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022 in Stuart, Fla. © ERIC HASERT/TCPALM Jodi Bruce, sister of murder victim Michelle Mishcon, comments on a photo of Michelle projected to the court during a court proceeding before Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer at the Martin County Courthouse on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022 in Stuart, Fla.

“She was so happy, she had such a great life. She smiled; she laughed all the time. You beat her up; you stopped her.”

Bruce said she felt state prosecutors gave up on the case after learning last week they would agree with defense attorneys to have a judge find Harrouff not guilty by reason of insanity.

“Completely gave up on my sister, and my brother-in-law and my family and in essence, the entire community,” Bruce told Bauer.

Ivy Stevens, John Stevens’ daughter told Harrouff, “you are not the victim.”

“You're a murderer, a monster and a coward for not taking responsibility for what you did,” she said. “You have ruined lives and taken others. You have caused inexplicable grief, a sadness that cannot be cured.”

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Austin Harrouff (background) sits with his legal team in court before Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer at the Martin County Courthouse on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022 in Stuart, Fla. © ERIC HASERT/TCPALM Austin Harrouff (background) sits with his legal team in court before Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer at the Martin County Courthouse on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022 in Stuart, Fla.

Not guilty by reason of insanity

Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer ruled that Harrouff would be involuntarily committed into the custody of the Department of Children and Families for placement in a secured mental health facility.

Bauer’s ruling cancelled a nonjury trial that had been scheduled to begin Monday. It came after state prosecutors and defense lawyers stated they had agreed that Bauer could make a determination whether there was sufficient evidence that Harrouff met the criteria for being legally insane at the time of the crimes.

Bauer, in his ruling, noted that two mental health experts had concluded Harrouff was not sane when he killed Stevens and Mischon.

“It’s a sad case. It’s an awful case. Nobody is losing sight – I tell you I know I’m not – of the deaths and injuries that were sustained in this case," the judge 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.”

State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl, who attended the hearing, called Monday’s ruling “the most difficult day of my professional career as a prosecutor.”

He said he alone made the call to stipulate to Harrouff’s insanity defense.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Tom Bakkedahl © Contributed photo from Tom Bakkedahl Tom Bakkedahl

"I will say without hesitation that this office did everything, and I mean, absolutely everything within its power and ability, to thoroughly and completely examine this case," Bakkedahl said.

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“Devastating doesn't adequately describe what this is. It's just life-altering,” Bakkedahl said. “It's something that they will live with forever, regardless of what we had done in this case.”

Harrouff’s defense attorney Nellie King said the case had always been about mental illness.

She said before the murders, Harrouff had good grades, a gentle demeanor, and no criminal record.

“He could be anybody’s son, brother, neighbor, friend, and he experienced a severe psychotic episode. It was always about mental illness,” King said.

She said two mental health experts found Harrouff “had such severe auditory and visual hallucinations and delusions, that he didn't have the capacity to understand what he was doing at the time.”

Records show Harrouff had been exhibiting signs of a mental health disorder weeks before the incident, according to family members. Hours before the attacks, his mother called Jupiter police to report concerns that her son had been acting strangely, saying he had “superpowers” and was immortal.

In a 2019 report, Dr. Phillip Resnick, a forensic psychiatrist at the University Hospitals of Cleveland in Ohio, wrote Harrouff had bipolar disorder and was manic with psychotic features. He noted Harrouff went through a period of ranging moods a week prior to the stabbing deaths.

King meanwhile, insisted that Harrouff, who said nothing in court, “empathizes” with the Stevens and Mishcon families.

“When he learned of the conduct of his actions, he's been extremely remorseful,” she said. “His faith has helped to support him, as well as his family. But he has to live with this tragedy every single day.”

Melissa E. Holsman is the legal affairs reporter for TCPalm and Treasure Coast Newspapers, and is writer and co-host of Uncertain Terms, a true crime podcast. Reach her at melissa.holsman@tcpalm.com.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Florida man who killed couple and tried to eat a victim's face declared insane, not guilty

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usr: 2
This is interesting!