Austin Harrouff, the Florida college student accused of killing two people and eating the face of one of his victims, was found not guilty by reason of insanity in a plea deal approved just as his murder trial was set to begin, CBS News reports.
Harrouff, now 25, was facing two counts of first-degree murder, as well as other charges for allegedly killing killing a husband and wife, John and Michelle Mishcon Stevens, as well as seriously injuring a neighbor. The gruesome, seemingly random attack occurred in August 2016, when Harrouff was 19 years old.
For the case, Harrouff’s lawyers and prosecutors agreed to waive a jury trial, and instead have a judge decide whether Harrouff was legally insane. The trial — which faced numerous delays, from Covid-19 to Harrouff’s own recovery after he nearly destroyed his digestive system after drinking chemicals during the attack — was finally set to begin today, and was expected to last three weeks. But the last-minute plea deal ended proceedings just as they were set to begin.
“Although the not guilty by reason of insanity result in the Austin Harrouff case fails to bring comfort to the families of the victims, this finding brings this matter to its right and lawful end,” said one of Harrouff’s attorneys,” Nellie L. King, who added: “It is a high burden, clear and convincing evidence, for the defense to establish a client is legally insane in Florida. The facts and the evidence here warrant such a finding, however. The false narrative advanced by the State that the homicides were the result of Austin ingesting Flakka, or bath salts, was debunked repeatedly. Not only did defense experts refute this theory, but the State sent evidence specimens to two different drug testing facilities on three different occasions only to have negative results tendered each time.”
Prosector Brandon White did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment.
With the plea, Harrouff will avoid prison time and will be committed to a secure mental hospital instead, where he will likely spend the rest of his life. It’s possible judges and doctors could agree, down the line, that he is no longer dangerous and could be released, but as University of Miami law professor Craig Trocino previously said, that would be “highly unlikely” considering the notoriety of the crime.
In the lead up to the trial, mental health experts tapped by both prosecutors and the defense determined that Harrouff had suffered an acute psychotic episode during the attack. The doctor hired by Harrouff’s lawyers even suggested Harrouff showed signs of “clinical lycanthropy delusions,” meaning he may have believed he was “half-dog, half-man.”
The shocking nature of the crime also raised initial questions about whether Harrouff was on the influence of drugs, like flakka or bath salts (the latter had even been tied to another Florida face-eating attack in 2012). However, no signs of any drugs showed up in Harrouff’s post-arrest toxicology reports.