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Family condemn not guilty verdict for college student who killed couple and chewed victim’s face off

The Independent logo The Independent 11/29/2022 Graeme Massie
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Relatives of a Florida couple who were brutally murdered in their home have condemned “white, rich boy justice” after their killer was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

College student Austin Harrouff, 25, randomly attacked John Stevens, 59, and Michelle Mishcon Stevens, 53, in their garage in Tequesta, Florida, in 2016, and was found chewing on the face of one of the victims, authorities say.

Harrouff also seriously injured a neighbour who came the couple’s aid. He had pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and other charges.

Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer accepted a plea deal at a hearing on Monday that will see Harrouff committed to a secure mental health facility until a judge and doctors agree he no longer presents a danger.

Stunned family members hit out at the plea deal in emotional victim impact statements delivered in court.

Cindy Mishcon, whose sister was murdered, said Harrouff and his family had attempted to cast himself as the victim, when in reality he was a “cold-blooded murderer”, according to the Associated Press.

“Here we are opening the prison doors for a double murderer,” Ms Mishcon, an attorney, said.

“Four words come to mind. White, rich boy justice.”

Jodi Bruce, another sister of Mishcon’s said: “I didn’t really know you could brutally murder two people, attempt to kill another, and not even have a trial. That was news to me.”

Austin Harrouff claimed he had taken bath salts before the gruesome attack. (AP) © Provided by The Independent Austin Harrouff claimed he had taken bath salts before the gruesome attack. (AP)

Forensic psychologist Dr Phillip Resnick concluded in a mental health report released in 2019 that Harrouff believed he was “half-dog, half-man” during the incident.

He did not know his victims and reportedly believed that he was being chased by a demon.

Harrouff, who was attending Florida State University at the time, faced up to life imprisonment if convicted.

Cindy Mishcon, sister of murder victim Michelle Mishcon, reads her statement about Austin Harrouff during a court proceeding at the Martin County Courthouse on Monday. (AP) © Provided by The Independent Cindy Mishcon, sister of murder victim Michelle Mishcon, reads her statement about Austin Harrouff during a court proceeding at the Martin County Courthouse on Monday. (AP)

He was found to have bought hallucinogenic mushrooms days before the attack, but authorities said that no traces of them were found in his blood.

Harrouff’s parents told investigators that their son had been acting oddly for weeks and that they had set up a mental health evaluation, but the killings took place before he could be seen.

The court heard that two mental health experts, one for the defence and one for prosecutors, both found that he had suffered a psychotic episode during the attack and could not tell the difference between right and wrong.

Austin Harrouff, in back, sits with his legal team in court before Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer at the Martin County Courthouse. (AP) © Provided by The Independent Austin Harrouff, in back, sits with his legal team in court before Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer at the Martin County Courthouse. (AP)

Harrouff will remain in the Martin County jail until he can be transferred to a secure facility that is monitored by the state.

He will not be allowed to leave it without a court order.

The families of the victims were angry at the plea deal and gave victim impact statements to the court.

Cindy Mishcon, the sister of Michelle Mishcon, called him a “cold-blooded murderer and not a victim.”

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