FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The trial begins Monday of a former college student who randomly killed a Florida couple in their garage six years ago before biting into the face of one of the victims.
Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer will decide whether 25-year-old Austin Harrouff will go to prison for the rest of his life or a mental hospital. Harrouff eschewed a jury trial by pleading not guilty by reason of insanity to two counts of first-degree murder and other charges in the 2016 deaths of John Stevens, 59, and his wife, Michelle Mishcon Stevens, 53. He also seriously injured a neighbor who tried to help the couple.
The Florida State University alumni’s trial has been delayed due to the pandemic, legal disputes and Harrouff’s recovery from serious injuries he sustained from drinking a chemical during the attack. The trial will take place in Stuart, north of West Palm Beach, and is expected to last about three weeks.
Under Florida law, defendants are presumed sane, so Harrouff will have to present “clear and convincing” evidence if he wants to show that he had a severe mental breakdown that prevented him from understanding the actions he was committing or that these were not. correct.
Harrouff has said that he was running from a demon when he committed the attack.
If the judge accepts his insanity, Harrouff will be admitted to a psychiatric hospital until doctors and a judge determine that he is no longer dangerous.
If convicted, Harrouff will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole; prosecutors gave up seeking the death penalty.
Craig Trocino, a professor of law at the University of Miami, believes that he could be sentenced to life in prison, since “it is highly unlikely” that they would risk releasing a murderer as notorious as Harrouff.
Harrouff’s parents, who are divorced, and others say the defendant displayed bizarre behavior for weeks. Before the attack, his parents had made an appointment for him to be evaluated.