Face-eating suspect Austin Harrouff intends to mount insanity defense

College student is accused of killing two strangers

By Tim Swift - Local10.com Digital Editor

STUART, Fla. - The legal team for a 20-year-old man accused of killing a Martin County couple and chewing the face of one of the victims intends to mount an insanity defense.

According a court filing, defense attorney Nellie King said Austin Harrouff was "suffering from a full-blown psychotic episode" when he killed Michelle Mishcon Stevens and John Stevens in their garage on Aug. 15, 2016. 

The victims' neighbor, Jeffrey Fisher, 47, was injured in the attack.

"Defendant Austin Kelly Harrouff had a mental infirmity disease or defect and because of that condition: [a] he did not know what he was doing or its consequences or [b] although he knew what doing and its consequences, he did not know it was wrong," King wrote in the filing. 

King plans to call Dr. Phillip Resnick, the director of forensic psychiatry at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, as an expert witness in the case.

Resnick has been involved in many high-profile criminal cases for decades. He has consulted or testified in trials involving Jeffrey Dahmer, Casey Anthony, John du Pont and Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

Experts say insanity defenses rarely succeed because it's hard to convince jurors a defendant couldn't tell right from wrong.

The case attracted international attention because Harrouff was found hovering over John Stevens' body while biting and removing pieces of the victim's face with his teeth, Martin County sheriff's deputies said.

According to court documents, Harrouff later told told deputies that he "ate humans" and asked for help, saying that he couldn't breathe.

At first, some speculated that Harrouff had taken a synthetic drug such as flakka that sometimes causes bizarre behavior in users.

But, according to an FBI report, only alcohol and minimal levels of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, were found in the Harrouff's system after the killing.

Austin Harrouff's father, Wade, appeared on the Dr. Phil Show in the weeks after the attacks. He told host Phillip McGraw that his son had shown signs of schizophrenia.

Harrouff was also interviewed by McGraw for his show in October of 2016 while he was in the hospital, but the segment never aired.

Harrouff told McGraw that he heard voices and had strange dreams. Harrouff's defense team has sought to prevent the interview from being released publicly, saying the video would prejudice their client's case.

Harrouff is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. He could face the death penalty if found guilty.

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