Judge to decide fate of man accused in face-biting attack

Austin Harrouff, center, wearing stripes, accused of brutally killing a Tequesta couple in...
Austin Harrouff, center, wearing stripes, accused of brutally killing a Tequesta couple in 2016, appears Friday, Aug. 2, 2019, at the Martin County Courthouse in Stuart, Fla., as defense attorney Robert Watson, standing in front of Harrouff, asks Martin County Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer Jr., to not allow video recording of a mental health evaluation to be conducted by a psychologist hired by the state. Harrouff, a former college student who killed a Florida couple in their garage six years earlier and then chewed on one victim’s face, is finally set to go on trial, Monday, Nov. 21, 2022. (Xavier Mascarenas/TCPalm.com via AP, File)(Associated Press)
Published: Nov. 28, 2022 at 10:00 AM EST
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A trial for a former college student who randomly killed a Florida couple in their garage six years ago and then chewed on one victim’s face was set to begin Monday.

Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer will decide whether Austin Harrouff, 25, goes to prison for the rest of his life, or to a mental hospital. Harrouff waived a jury trial after pleading not guilty by reason of insanity to two counts of first-degree murder and other charges for the 2016 slayings of John Stevens, 59, and his wife, Michelle Mishcon Stevens, 53. He also seriously injured a neighbor who tried to help them.

The trial for the former Florida State University student has been delayed by the pandemic, legal wrangling and Harrouff’s recovery from critical injuries suffered while drinking a chemical during the attack. It is being held in Stuart, north of West Palm Beach, and is expected to last about three weeks.

Defendants are presumed sane under Florida law, meaning that Harrouff must show he had a severe mental breakdown that prevented him from understanding actions or that they were even wrong by “clear and convincing” evidence.

He has claimed he was fleeing a demon when the attack happened.

If the judge agrees he was insane, Harrouff will be committed to a secure mental hospital until doctors and a judge agree that he is no longer dangerous. Craig Trocino, a University of Miami law professor, said it would effectively be a life sentence because “it’s highly unlikely” that they would risk releasing a killer as notorious as Harrouff.

If convicted, Harrouff will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole; prosecutors waived the death penalty.

Harrouff’s parents, who are divorced, and others said he had acted strangely for weeks. His parents had set up an appointment for him to be evaluated, but the attack occurred first.