FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A Florida man accepted a plea deal on Monday that will send him to a mental hospital for killing a couple at their home and chewing on a victim’s face.
Austin Harrouff had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to two counts of murder for killing John Stevens and his wife, Michelle Mishcon Stevens, in 2016, The Associated Press reported.
Harrouff was a student at Florida State University in 2016 when he stabbed the couple in what prosecutors described as a vicious and random attack, and injured their neighbor who tried to help the couple, TCPalm.com reported. Deputies said that Harrouff had been walking to his father’s home in the victims’ neighborhood when he targeted the couple.
Under the plea agreement, Harrouff will be committed to a mental health facility until both doctors and a judge agree he is no longer a danger to society, the AP reported. Had the case gone to trial, Harrouff faced a potential sentence of life in prison if he were found guilty.
“Austin must also contend with the pain he has caused the families,” defense attorney Nellie King said in a statement. “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.”
Deputies said at the time of Harrouff’s arrest that they found the suspect chewing on John Stevens’ face, and that they recovered what appeared to be flesh from Harrouff’s teeth, TCPalm.com reported. Deputies said that subduing Harrouff required the use of a K-9, police and a Taser.
Both the defense and prosecution hired psychologists, both of whom concluded that during the attack Harrouff was suffering “an acute psychotic episode,” according to TCPalm.com.
Some neighbors said they were dissatisfied with the plea agreement.
“Honestly, I think someone like that that’s taken the lives of two people and nearly almost killed a third with the neighbor across the street, I think his life should be over,” Nicholas Leone, who grew up knowing the victims, told WPTV. “I think it’s disappointing that someone like that could go through mental rehabilitation and then be back out on the streets like nothing ever happened, like they never did anything wrong. Very disappointing from a justice perspective and for those of us that cared about them.”
Michelle Mishcon’s sister, an attorney, gave an impact statement in the courtroom, pointing to text messages that showed the FSU student was doing drugs and abusing alcohol in the year prior to the killings, the AP reported.
“Is it really so hard for you to understand that you are a cold-blooded murderer and not a victim,” Mischon asked in court.
Mishcon also criticized Harrouff’s father, Wade Harrouff, who bought his son a knife the day before the murders while they attended a gun show, TCPalm.com reported.
“Why didn’t you intervene if you were so worried about your son? You shouldn’t have let him leave your house the nights of Aug. 15 if he was acting so strange … you should have stopped him and reasoned with him, asked him what was wrong and how you could have helped him.”
Harrouff had claimed he was fleeing a demon when the attack happened, the AP reported. His parents said he had been acting strangely for weeks, and that an appointment had been set up for him to be evaluated, but the attack happened first.
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