Jannah Theme License is not validated, Go to the theme options page to validate the license, You need a single license for each domain name.

A judge will rule on the Florida insanity plea

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A former college student who accidentally killed a Florida couple in their garage six years ago and then chewed off one victim’s face will finally appear in court Monday and a judge will decide whether he should go to prison for life or to a mental hospital.

Austin Haruf, 25, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to two counts of first-degree murder and other charges. August 2016 the murders of John Stevens, a 59-year-old landscape painter, and his 53-year-old wife, Michelle Mishcon Stevens, who had retired from a career in finance.

The former Florida State University student waived a jury trial, meaning District Judge Sherwood Bauer will decide whether Harrauf was insane when he killed the couple and seriously injured a neighbor who came to their aid.

The trial has been delayed due to the pandemic, legal disputes and Haruf’s recovery from severe injuries sustained while using a chemical during the attack. It will be held in Stuart, an hour’s drive north of West Palm Beach, and will last for about three weeks.

Prosecutor Brandon White did not return a call and email seeking comment. Harruff’s lead attorney, Robert Watson, declined to comment.

Under Florida law, defendants are presumed sane. For Harrauf’s defense to succeed, Watson must show that he had a serious mental breakdown that prevented him from understanding his actions, or that they were wrong by “clear and convincing evidence.” Haruf said yes escaping from the demon when he attacked the couple.

If convicted, Haruf will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole; the prosecutor’s office refused the death penalty.

If Harruff is declared insane, Bauer will commit him to a secure mental hospital until doctors and a judge agree he is no longer dangerous. It would also effectively be a life sentence, said Craig Trocino, a law professor at the University of Miami, because it is “highly unlikely” that doctors and a judge would risk freeing a killer as notorious as Haruf.

Two mental health experts, one hired by the prosecution and the other by the defense, examined Haruf and found he was having an acute psychotic episode at the time of the attack. They also found that he could not tell right from wrong.

Prosecutors then hired a second expert who said Harouf was sane, but recently retracted it, saying he had serious health problems. Now they have a third expert who believes Harruf was on drugs that didn’t show up in post-arrest tests but didn’t examine him.

Lea Johnston, a law professor at the University of Florida, said only about 1% of defendants try an insanity defense because the bar for success is so high. About a quarter of them succeed, usually in a plea deal where prosecutors agree that the defendant’s mental illness meets the standard.

She said that for the insanity defense that goes to trial, defendants who waive juries have the most success. Judges understand the system, she said, while juries often worry that defendants acquitted by reason of insanity will be released early. They may also question whether mental hospital treatment works.

“There are decades of research showing that (the public) is biased against the insanity defense, and that is misunderstood by a lot of people,” she said.

Harruf’s attack made national headlines for its brutality and randomness; he did not know the victims. He was a 19-year-old with no criminal record — a former high school football player and wrestler studying exercise. He stripped almost naked and attacked the couple in their open garage with the tools he found there. Haruf was biting chunks off John Stevens’ face when police arrived.

It took several officers, an electric Taser, and a police dog to subdue Harrouf. The officers did not shoot him because they were afraid of hitting Stevens.

Haruf nearly died from chemicals he drank in the garage that burned his digestive system.

Investigators found he had purchased hallucinogenic mushrooms days before the attack, but friends said he destroyed them and no traces were found in his blood. He also googled “how to know if you’re going crazy.”

Haruf’s parents, who are divorced, and others said he had been acting strangely for several weeks. His parents made an appointment for a check-up, but the attack happened first.

His father Wade Haruf said about it TV psychologist Phil McGraw that on the night of the murder, his son left the restaurant where they were eating without explanation. He walked two miles (three kilometers) to his mother’s house and tried to drink the oil. Mina Garouf stopped him, but he poured the oil into a bowl of parmesan cheese and ate it.

She took it back to the restaurant. Wade Haruf, a dentist, said McGraw grabbed his son and said, “What’s wrong with you?” He said his son raised his fist, but Wade Haruf’s girlfriend told him to stop and he left.

The restaurant’s security footage shows Austin Harauf calmly walking out about 45 minutes before the attack. His mother, before learning of the attack, called 911 and told the dispatcher that her son appeared to be delusional, claiming to have superpowers and that demons were in her home.

But it was too late – Haruf walked or ran the four miles (six kilometers) to the Stephens’ house.

Austin Harouf told McGraw that he was running from a demon he called Daniel and had only vague memories of the killings.

He said he met Michelle Stevens in the couple’s garage. She screamed, and “then it’s a blur.”

“I don’t remember what she said — I just remember being yelled at,” Harroff said. He said he grabbed a machete but did not remember why he killed her and her husband.

“It kind of happened, but I didn’t know about it,” Harrauf said.


Related Articles

Back to top button