A 25-year-old accused of randomly attacking and killing a couple in their garage before eating one of their faces will be sent to a mental hospital instead of prison.
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 that he cannot remember the details, but believed that God and demons were speaking to him as they attacked them.
The decision was made during the first and last day of a trial that was expected to last 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 pleading not guilty by insanity in 2020, he was accepted by Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer in Martin County, Florida.
Their decision 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.
Charged with a double murder: Austin Harrouff appears before Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer in Martin County Courthouse on Monday
Michelle and John Stevens were murdered in their garage in 2016 when Harrouff went into a mental episode and thought he was “half dog, half man.”
Harrouff is shown here in custody after the murders. He begged officers to kill him after he was pulled from John Stevens, telling them, “I ate something bad.”
Bauer heard through court documents that in 2016 Harrouff went into a psychotic episode that left him thinking he was “half dog, half man” when he attacked the couple near their Florida home.
Harrouff’s attack made national news for its extreme brutality. He had been out to dinner at a restaurant with his father when he started acting erratic and left.
He then walked two miles to his mother’s house, where he mixed cooking oil with Parmesan cheese 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 calmly 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 his own tools to murder them.
Harrouff told television psychiatrist Dr. Phil that he was running from a demon he named Daniel and had only vague memories of the murders.
He said he met Michelle Stevens in the couple’s garage. She screamed, and ‘then it’s a blur,’ she said.
“I don’t remember what he said, I just remember being yelled at,” Harrouff said.
She said she grabbed a machete but doesn’t remember why it killed her and her husband. She drank a variety of additional chemicals in the couple’s garage that caused her serious injuries.
When the police arrived at the house, they found the couple dead and Harrouff biting into John’s face. Police said they were threatening Harrouff with a dog, activating it and kicking it in the head to make it stop.
Evidence provided to the court while Austin Harrouff’s mental state was being determined
Harrouff was a 19-year-old Florida State University student when he killed the couple (pictured) and stabbed a neighbor who came to help them, prosecutors say.
At his trial, Bauer said two mental health experts, one hired by the state and one by the defense, had concluded that Harrouff was not sane when he killed the couple.
Bauer noted that Harrouff’s defense team and state prosecutors “agreed with this particular outcome, I’m sure based on all the facts and circumstances they had.”
“It’s a sad case, it’s a horrible case,” Bauer said.
“But when all is said and done, the state and the defense have determined that mental intent was not formulated. He was not there and therefore the defendant is technically not guilty by reason of insanity.
Dr. Ohillipo Resnick, a defense expert, determined in 2019 that Harrouff was an “active psychopath” because he continued to attack even when police officers electrocuted him and kicked him multiple times in the head.
Resnick claimed that the defendant suffered from ‘clinical lycanthropy’, which involves believing that you are a dog and explains Harrouff’s canine behaviour.
A crime scene knife presented as evidence
A wine bottle opener recovered from the scene of the Stevens murder in August 2016.
Crime scene workers remove furniture from the garage where Michelle Stevens was found
If convicted, Harrouff would have been sentenced to life in prison without parole, as prosecutors had already opted not to apply the death penalty.
This comes nearly two years after Harrouff pleaded not guilty in 2020.
At the time, the prosecution’s psychiatrist, Dr. Gregory C. Landrum, said Harrouff was legally insane when he fatally attacked Michelle and John Stevens in front of their home in August 2016.
Landrum noted at the time that Harrouff was being treated for schizophrenia when he was jailed.
The psychiatrist’s finding bolsters the case for Harrouff’s lawyers, who plan to argue 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 killed the couple, the legal standard in Florida for being found not guilty by reason of insanity.
The trial was significantly delayed by the pandemic and Harrouff’s slow recovery from serious injuries he sustained while drinking chemicals at the time of the attack.
He will now be committed to a state mental 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