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Insanity defense: What does it mean for Austin Harrouff's case?

Posted at 7:39 PM, Dec 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-07 09:05:19-05

Did Austin Harrouff have a "full-blown psychotic episode” when he stabbed a Martin County couple, attacked their neighbor and then chewed the face of his victim?

RELATED: More coverage of the case | Harrouff said he had super powers | Suspect interviewed on Dr. Phil

That’s what his attorneys hope to prove to in court in order to defend him against the criminal charges he now faces.

However, there are challenges that lie ahead for both sides.

It’s never been a question of who killed John Stevens and Michelle Mishcon and attacked their neighbor Jeff Fisher. The question continues to be why did the 19-year-old Florida State student do it?

When deputies arrived they discovered Harrouff still at the scene, still biting the face of one
of the victims.

“I think from the begging everybody looked at this as a mental health issue or a drug issue or both,” said criminal defense attorney Gregg Lerman.

Toxicology results seemed to rule out the question of drugs. Now, Harrouff's defense attorneys plan to argue that he was insane when he committed the crime.

“You’re hoping to negate the intent that the government is relying in prosecuting your client
for this homicide,” said Lerman.

Lerman says this could come down the mental health experts.

Court records show the defense has a doctor from Cleveland who is prepared to testify that Harrouff was suffering from a “full-blown psychotic episode” at the time of the crime.

The state will likely have its own expert to evaluate him.

“[The prosecution] has got to find experts that are going to rebut what the defense expert says.”

Licensed psychologist Raphi Wald says it is very possible for someone to have a sudden and short lived mental health breakdown, often triggered by something stressful.

“It’s possible for people to be completely mentally healthy their whole lives and then at the ages of 18 or 19 or 20 they become psychotic,” said Wald. “In fact, the overwhelming majority of people who suffer from psychosis will have their first psychotic episode between the ages of 18 to 30."

Wald says there are still ways the state can try to poke holes in this insanity defense.

“For example, they might bring up the fact that the overwhelming majority that suffer from a psychotic disorder are not violent.”

If it goes to trial, the jury will have more verdicts to consider.

They could choose a lesser charge or find him not guilty by reason of insanity.