A 25-year-old accused of indiscriminately attacking and killing a couple in their garage before eating one of their faces is sent to a mental hospital instead of jail.
On Monday afternoon, Austin Harrouff was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the 2016 murder of John Stevens, 59, and his wife Michelle Mishcon Stevens, 53, at their Florida home.
Since the incident, Harrouff has said he cannot remember the details, but believed God and demons spoke to him as they attacked them.
The decision came during the first and last day of a process that was expected to take three weeks.
Harrouff was a 19-year-old student at Florida State University when he killed the couple and stabbed a neighbor who came to help them, prosecutors say.
Two years after entering a plea of not guilty on the grounds of insanity in 2020, it was accepted by Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer in Martin County, Florida.
His ruling meant that Harrouff would be involuntarily taken into the custody of the Department of Children and Families for placement in a secure mental health facility.
Austin Harrouff, charged with double murder, will appear in court Monday before Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer at the Martin County Courthouse
Michelle and John Stevens were murdered in their garage in 2016 when Harrouff had a mental episode thinking he was ‘half dog, half man’
Harrouff is pictured here being taken into custody after the murders. He begged deputies to kill him after they took him off John Stevens and told them “I ate something wrong”
Bauer learned through court documents that Harrouff went through a psychotic episode in 2016 that left him thinking he was “half dog, half man” when he attacked the couple near his Florida home.
Harrouuff’s attack made national headlines for its extreme brutality. He had been out to dinner with his father at a restaurant when he started behaving erratically and left.
He then walked two miles to his mother’s house, where he mixed cooking oil with parmesan and tried to drink it before his mother took him back to the restaurant.
After another altercation with his father, security footage from the restaurant showed Harrouff quietly leaving the restaurant 45 minutes before the attack.
He then walked four miles to the Stevens’ home, where he entered their open garage and used their own tools to kill them.
Harrouff told TV psychiatrist Dr. Phil that he escaped from a demon he named Daniel and had only vague memories of the murders.
He said he ran into Michelle Stevens in the couple’s garage. She screamed and “then it’s a blur,” he said.
“I don’t remember what she said — I just remember being yelled at,” Harrouff said.
He said he took a machete but doesn’t remember why he killed her and her husband. He drank a series of extra chemicals in the couple’s garage that left him with critical injuries.
When police arrived at the house, they found the couple dead and Harrouff bit John’s face. Police said they threatened Harrouff with a dog, groped him and kicked his head to get him to stop.
Evidence provided to court while Austin Harrouff’s mental state was being determined
Harrouff was a 19-year-old student at Florida State University when he killed the couple (pictured) and stabbed a neighbor who came to help them, prosecutors say
In his verdict, Bauer said two mental health experts, one hired by the state and one for the defense, concluded that Harrouff was not sane when he killed the couple.
Bauer noted that Harrouff’s defense team and prosecutors “agreeed with this particular outcome, I’m sure based on all the facts and circumstances they had.”
“It’s a sad case, it’s a terrible case,” Bauer said.
“But when it’s all said and done, the state and defense determined that no mental intent was formulated. It wasn’t there and therefore the defendant is technically not guilty by reason of insanity.”
Dr. Ohillipo Resnick, an expert for the defense, determined in 2019 that Harrouff was “actively psychotic” because he continued to attack even as police groped and kicked him in the head several times.
Resnick claimed the defendant suffered from “clinical lycanthropy,” meaning thinking you’re a dog, and explained Harrouff’s dog-like behavior.
A knife from the murder scene served as evidence
A wine bottle opener retrieved from the scene of the Stevens’ murder in August 2016
Crime scene workers remove furniture from the garage where Michelle Stevens was found
Had Harrouff been found guilty, he would have been sentenced to life without parole, as prosecutors had already chosen not to carry out the death penalty.
This comes nearly two years after Harrouff entered his not guilty plea in 2020.
At the time, prosecution psychiatrist Dr. Gregory C. Landrum that Harrouff was legally insane when he fatally attacked Michelle and John Stevens outside their home in August 2016.
Landrum noted at the time that Harrouff was being treated for schizophrenia while imprisoned.
The psychiatrist’s finding supports the case of Harrouff’s lawyers, who plan to plead that the 23-year-old should be found not guilty by reason of insanity at his murder trial, which is scheduled for May.
Landrum’s conclusion was that Harrouff was “unable to tell right from wrong” when he murdered the couple—the Florida legal standard for not being found guilty by reason of insanity.
The process was significantly delayed by the pandemic and Harrouff’s slow recovery from critical injuries sustained while drinking chemicals at the time of the attack.
He will now be admitted to a state hospital and his lawyers have previously admitted it is unlikely he will ever be released.
Austin Harrouff is transported by detectives to the Martin County Jail in 2016