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Prosecutor seeks to change laws after Austin Harrouff found not guilty by reason of insanity

Florida currently doesn't have many options for convicting people considered insane
Austin Harrouff in court on first day of murder trial, Nov. 28, 2022
Posted at 6:34 PM, Nov 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-30 20:09:28-05

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — The criminal case for Austin Harrouff has closed, but the state attorney's office isn't putting it in the past yet.

Prosecutors may push for changes or additions to some Florida laws which, they said, tied their hands when it came to trying to get a prison sentence for a double murderer.

Harrouff killed John Stevens and Michelle Mishcon in 2016 at their Tequesta home and injured their neighbor, Jeff Fisher, in a random attack.

A judge ruled Monday that Harrouff was not guilty by reason of insanity and ordered him to be admitted into a secure mental health facility. He will not go to prison.

Family of the victims expressed their anger with the judicial system in the courtroom.

"We were not happy with this either," Assistant State Attorney Brandon White said. "Really, the anger should be at the law."

White said he wants to look at two specific laws in light of the verdict.

Michelle Mishcon and John Stevens, victims of Austin Harrouff
Michelle Mishcon and John Stevens were attacked and stabbed to death Aug. 15, 2016, at their Martin County home.

"I'm going to try to make this a positive change, to try to find something positive out of something so horrific," White said.

First, he wants to research the few states that allow a "guilty but insane" conviction. In Florida, White said only a "not guilty by reason of insanity" conviction is handed down.

"Right now, we have not guilty by reason of insanity, which, for all intensive and purposes, it gets the defendant off completely," White said. "Anytime we have a not guilty by reason of insanity, basically we are surrendering the outcome to a bunch of paid experts, and psychology is not a hard science. I would say you could probably find a psychologist to say whatever you want them to say."

White wants to see if a "guilty but insane" conviction could still allow someone to be deemed insane at the time of the commission of a crime, but still be given a prison sentence.

"We shouldn't give the keys to the prison, so to speak, to psychologists," White said.

He also wants to see the state expand upon its definition of "voluntary intoxication." It only takes into account the actions someone takes while actively intoxicated, not the actions they might take while experiencing psychological impacts from withdrawal or long-term drug use.

Harrouff had a known and documented drug habit, but toxicology tests did not pick up on any drugs in his system at the time of the crime.

Assistant State Attorney Brandon White speaks about changes he is seeking after Austin Harrouff was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Assistant State Attorney Brandon White speaks about changes he is seeking after Austin Harrouff was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

"The evidence actually corroborated that he stopped doing drugs probably a few days prior," White said.

Two psychologists concluded Harrouff was not sane at the time of the crime.

However, White said a third mental health expert, Michael Gamache, had concluded Harrouff was not insane at the time he committed the murders, contradicting the findings of two other mental health experts.

"He's using all these drugs one year prior, he suddenly stops, cuts it out cold turkey, and based on the withdrawals, he had psychosis," White explained while paraphrased Gamache's report.

But Gamache had to withdraw from testifying for personal health reasons, and the judge denied the state's request to hire another mental health expert.

White also said because of the current definition of "voluntary intoxication," Gamache's conclusion that Harrouff was experiencing psychosis from withdrawals would only go to support insanity, not voluntary intoxication.

White said he would contact state lawmakers to ask them to support the legislative changes and additions in the next session, feeling Gov. Ron DeSantis might also support the measure.

"It's apparent to me, and probably everyone, that Gov. Desantis wants to fix a broken criminal justice system, he has said it, and the system is broken," White said.