Local attorney provides insight on Austin Harrouff case

Posted at 7:24 PM, Nov 25, 2016

The 19-year-old accused of brutally murdering a Martin County couple was described this week as "struggling with severe mental illness," according to his attorneys. 

However, neither Austin Harrouff's family nor their attorneys are saying specifically what he is battling. 

So what goes into building a defense around mental health? We spoke to a local defense attorney for some insight. 

This week News Channel 5 got it’s first look at the evidence prosecutors have against 19 year old Austin Harrouff.

 It spanned from statements from his mom to journal entries talking about death and recorded statements from Harrouff himself.
“All of those factors are going to come into play,” said West Palm Beach criminal trial lawyer Gregg Lerman.
“Just as a gut reaction that they’ll have a pretty strong case as a not guilty by reason of insanity,” said Lerman.
He believes Harrouff’s defense attorneys will be arguing mental health issues are what led the 19 year-old to allegedly stab John Stevens and Michelle Mishcon to death and eat part of John’s face.

RELATED:  Austin Harrouff's journal part of investigation
“The defense only has to provide by clear and convincing evidence that he was insane at the time of the offense,” said Lerman.
With this defense, according to Lerman, it only helps Harrouff’s attorneys that toxicology results showed there was no trace of any mind-altering substances in Harrouff’s system on the night of the attacks.
“You don’t want to be in a position that you’re arguing that someone’s insanity or mental infirmity is caused by something they voluntarily consumed.”
Lerman added it’s the anecdotal evidence, along with expert opinions from psychologists and psychiatrists that will play a major role in this case. In fact, Lerman said it’s the prosecutors who have a very high burden of proof with first degree murder charges.
“They have to prove [Harrouff] has the premeditated intent to commit the crimes for which he is charged,” said Lerman. “How do they get over that? They hope they find experts that say otherwise.”

Lerman says does not see this case going to trial anytime soon. In fact he said it’s also possible that we could see some plea offers or even some other sort of arrangement depending the information related to Harrouff’s mental health.

Harrouff’s next court date is set for January.