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Man accused of eating couple's faces won't face death penalty

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 18/8/2017 Laurie K. Blandford

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — Austin Harrouff won’t be put to death if he’s convicted of his alleged crimes.

The state isn’t pursuing the death penalty against the 20-year-old charged with two counts of first-degree murder with a weapon, attempted first-degree murder with a weapon and burglary of a dwelling with an assault or battery while armed, said Jeff Hendriks, the assistant state attorney who is prosecuting the case.

“After careful review of the case and applying the statute that controls the seeking of the death penalty,” said Hendriks this week, “it was decided to not seek it.”

Harrouff, a Jupiter, Fla., resident who was attending Florida State University, is accused of killing John Stevens III, 59, and Michelle Mishcon, 53, in the garage of their Martin County home and injuring their neighbor Jeffrey Fisher on Aug. 15, 2016.

Harrouff was found biting and chewing on Stevens' face in the man's driveway, and detectives recovered what appeared to be flesh from Harrouff's teeth.

“I ate humans,” Harouff told a sheriff's deputy that night.

Austin Harrouff © CONTRIBUTED PHOTO FROM MARTIN COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE Austin Harrouff It’s unclear if Harrouff’s lawyers plan to seek an insanity defense, but one of them hinted at it after TV personality “Dr. Phil” interviewed the accused killer. Attorney Nellie King previously said the CBS interview showed Harrouff’s deteriorating mental health.

“Austin had a psychological break, as evidenced by the auditory and visual hallucinations, paranoia and persecutory ideations he experienced and, more importantly, as recounted by numerous people, both relatives and non-relatives, who were around Austin in the days and weeks before the murders,” King said. “There is a mountain of information about this young man that will substantiate his mental illness at the time of the offense.”

His lawyers didn't respond to requests for comment.

Harrouff’s lawyers can notify the state within 30 days from the beginning of trial of their intent to rely on a defense of insanity, but it rarely happens that way, Hendriks said. If they decide to do so, the defense team would file a notice that includes a list of doctors and psychiatrists they plan to use to prove insanity.

The case might not be ready for trial until next year, Hendriks said.

If Harrouff’s attorneys use an insanity defense at trial, the burden of proof is still on the state prosecution, he said. After the state rests, the defense team would show how and why it believes Harrouff was insane at the time of the incident. The state then is allowed a rebuttal, using its doctors and psychiatrists to testify.

Harrouff, who was hospitalized after the incident until his Oct. 3 arrest, remains at the Martin County Jail without bail. From his hospital bed, he had told TV show host Phillip McGraw he doesn’t deserve the death penalty.

Harrouff said he always tried to follow the rules and be a good person. He said he didn’t plan the attack.

“I guess there was something seriously wrong with me,” Harrouff said. “I didn’t want it to happen. I never wanted to hurt anybody.”

Follow Laurie K. Blandford on Twitter: @TCPalmLaurie

 

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