After 6 Years, Florida Face-Biter Is Going on Trial

Judge will decide whether Austin Harrouff was insane when he killed couple
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 7, 2020 11:30 AM CST
Updated Nov 26, 2022 10:56 AM CST
Psychiatrist Gives His Take on Killer Face-Biter
This Oct. 3, 2016, file photo, provided by the Martin County Sheriff's Office, shows Austin Harrouff.   (Martin County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)
UPDATE Nov 26, 2022 10:56 AM CST

A former college student who randomly killed a Florida couple in their garage six years ago and then chewed on one victim's face finally goes on trial Monday, with a judge deciding whether he goes to prison for life or to a mental hospital. Austin Harrouff, 25, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to two counts of first-degree murder and other charges for his August 2016 slayings of John Stevens, a 59-year-old landscaper, and his 53-year-old wife, Michelle Mishcon Stevens. The former Florida State University student has waived a jury trial, meaning Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer will decide whether Harrouff was insane when he killed the couple, the AP reports. The trial, which was delayed by the pandemic, legal wranglings, and Harrouff’s recovery from critical injuries suffered while drinking a chemical during the attack, is expected to last three weeks.

Mar 7, 2020 11:30 AM CST

A prosecution psychiatrist says a Florida college student was legally insane when he fatally attacked a couple outside their home, chewing off part of the man's face, court documents filed this week show. Gregory Landrum's finding bolsters the case of Austin Harrouff's attorneys, who are planning to argue the 23-year-old should be found not guilty by reason of insanity at his murder trial, which had been scheduled for May but was postponed indefinitely Thursday, the AP reports. He faces a life sentence if convicted of murdering John Stevens and Michelle Mishcon Stevens in August 2016. Landrum outlined Harrouff's declining mental state before the killings, including God and demons talking to him, increasing paranoia, and other hallucinations.

He noted that Harrouff is being treated for schizophrenia while jailed. As a result, Landrum concluded, "Harrouff was unable to distinguish right from wrong" when he killed the Stevenses—the legal standard in Florida for being found not guilty by reason of insanity. The story goes back to a terrifying night in Palm Beach in 2016, when deputies found a horrific scene: Michelle Stevens, 53, lay mangled and dead in the garage and Harrouff, then a muscular exercise science major at Florida State University, was attacking and biting her 59-year-old husband on the driveway. A deputy's dog apparently bit Harrouff, enabling deputies to subdue him. "Shoot me now; I deserve to die," Harrouff said, according to court documents. (Read more about the case.)

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