Drugs, not mental illness, behind face-eating attack, victims' family says

Austin Harrouff's digital paper trail rebuts his insanity defense, they say

By Jeff Weinsier - Investigative Reporter

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. - "I think the defense is total bulls--t," said a teary eyed Ivy Stevens, who is 16 weeks pregnant.

Her father was brutally stabbed to death in August 2016 and now she is planning to name her firstborn John after him.

John Stevens and his wife, Michelle Mishcon, were attacked and killed in their Tequesta garage.

Austin Harrouff is charged with double murder. Harrouff was a 19-year-old Florida State University student when he stormed out of a restaurant and began walking. The attack was random.

Local 10 News has obtained 4,000 pages of Harrouff's text messages and web searches from August 2015 to August 2016. 

The family of Michelle Mishcon and John Stevens spoke exclusively to Local 10 News about those newly released records.

"I have lost many nights of sleep going over these texts," said Cindy Mishcon, who has read every word of the cellphone records more than once. "I only had one older sister, and now I don't. I know these texts inside and out." 

Cindy Mishcon said those records clearly show Harrouff's pattern of drug use.

Harrouff's defense team has said he was insane at the time of the attack.

"Every single time he does drugs, he seems to want to text about it," Cindy Mishcon said. "His father was obviously concerned about him doing drugs because his father texted him hours before the murders (and asked), 'Did you throw the drugs out?'"

Michelle Mishcon and John Stevens were brutally killed in their garage in 2016.

Harrouff also attacked a neighbor who tried to intervene. Harrouff was found growling and eating Stevens' face when Martin County sheriff's deputies arrived.

In the text messages, Harrouff continually talks about blacking out and drug use.

"I literally blacked out while talking to you," Harrouff texted someone in October 2015. 

Other texts include:

  • "I blacked out lost my hat my tennis shoes and my muscle shirt"
  • "Blacked out last night and I texted Sarah I have no idea why."
  • "Apparently I passed out in Harmon bathroom with pants off."

In March of 2016, he texted another person: "Sorry I'm asking a lot of questions I blacked out at like 8 o clock."

In the month leading to the killings, Harrouff's web searches included:

  • "How to know if your going crazy"
  • "Hearing things in my sleep"
  • "Exploding Head Syndrome - overview and facts"

Many of Austin Harrouff's texts during 2015 and 2016 are about drug use.

Six days before allegedly killing Mishcon and Stevens, text messages show Harrouff arranged to buy illegal mushrooms.

When chewed, the mushrooms can cause a hallucinogenic effect. 

Harrouff even asked the person from whom he was buying the "shrooms:" "How much would it take me to trip but not too bad?" 

"It has been extremely frustrating for my family to have to sit here and listen to his defense portray this case about mental illness," Mishcon said.

The defense will try to prove Harrouff was insane.

Deputies said they found Austin Harrouff growling and chewing on John Stevens' face when they arrived.

The attorneys are expected to rely on a report produced by a forensic psychologist. Dr. Phillip Resnick has said Harrouff suffers from clinical lycanthropy, a rare psychiatric syndrome in which the affected person is delusional and thinks they have been transformed into an animal.

The report from Resnick said Harrouff had bipolar disorder and an acute manic episode with psychotic features at the time of the attack.

"The evidence that Austin suffers from a severe mental illness is overwhelming. Dr. Phillip Resnick is one of the foremost forensic psychiatrists in the country," Harrouff's attorney, Nellie King, said. "There is no evidence that Austin was under the influence of any psychotropic drugs at the time of the murders." 

The family of Michelle Mishcon doesn't believe Austin Harrouff was insane at the time of the killings.

The defense has filed a motion to exclude any mention of drugs in trial.

An FBI laboratory report clearly said the agency does not have a validated method to test for psilocybin, the active ingredient in mushrooms, which Harrouff allegedly bought a week before.

"They hold up the FBI report and say, 'See, he didn't do any drugs. Drugs aren't an issue in this case.' But what they're not telling the public is what wasn't tested for," Cindy Mishcon said.

The trial is set for November. Harrouff faces life in prison.

"I'm a little more worried every day that he's going get away with murder with his false defense," Ivy Stevens said. "He was a college kid who abused drugs, not someone who was mentally ill."

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