A forensic psychologist concludes the Jupiter man suffered from 'severe mental disease' when he killed John Stevens and Michelle Mishcon, biting one of them in the face in 2016 in Martin County.
A forensic psychologist connected to some of the most infamous murder cases in the United States says Austin Harrouff believed he was “half-dog, half-man” the day the Jupiter resident brutally beat two people to death and was found biting one of their faces in Martin County.
In a 38-page mental-health report released by the Martin County State Attorney’s Office this week, Dr. Phillip Resnick said Harrouff believed he wasn’t human when he was found biting 59-year-old John Stevens III on Aug. 15, 2016. Authorities say Stevens and his wife, 53-year-old Michelle Mishcon, were beaten to death by Harrouff outside their home on Southeast Kokomo Lane, near the Palm Beach County border.
Martin County sheriff’s deputies said they found Harrouff on top of Stevens, biting his face and making growling sounds, when they arrived at the home.
“The fact that Mr. Harrouff persisted in biting the male victim in the presence of police officers, in spite of threats of being shot, being tased and receiving multiple kicks to the head, suggests that Mr. Harrouff was actively psychotic,” Resnick wrote.
The first-degree murder case is set to go to trial Nov. 4, more than three years after the fatal attacks. Harrouff's attorneys, Nellie King and Robert Watson, have said they will rely on the insanity defense in the case.
Resnick said in his opinion, Harrouff suffered from “severe mental disease,” in particular bipolar disorder and acute manic episodes with psychotic features. On Aug. 15, 2016, the day of the attacks, he said Harrouff suffered from “clinical lycanthropy delusions.”
Clinical lycanthropy is the rare occurrence where an individual believes they are an animal other than a human, more often than not a werewolf. Those who have studied cases of the delusion say it is often connected to existing mental disorders such as schizophrenia. In his report, Resnick said Harrouff “had the delusion that he could run ‘super fast’ because he was ‘half-man, half dog.’ He believed that other dogs’ hair was attaching to his face."
King said Thursday the attorneys "recognize this finding is of no comfort whatsoever to the families of the victims."
“But, hopefully it will shed some light on this tragic case, as well as highlight the need for community mental health treatment and awareness,” she wrote in a statement.
Due to the length of Harrouff’s manic episode and the absence of drugs in his system, Resnick wrote in his report that it was unlikely that it was a “drug induced psychosis” that led to the attacks, as Martin County Sheriff William Snyder told the public at the time and as attorneys representing Mischon’s family have alleged in a wrongful-death lawsuit.
Soon after the attacks, Snyder said investigators believed Harrouff was high on some kind of synthetic drug like flakka or bath salts, which were popular at the time. Since that time, certain ingredients in the designer drugs — which can induce symptoms of super-human strength, paranoia and visions — have been banned in China. Authorities have said that since then, they have had far less cases of "excited delirium."
A toxicology report completed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation found Harrouff had no designer drugs in his system and only trace amounts of marijuana.
Resnick said he did consider the possibility that Harrouff was faking his symptoms in an attempt to get out of the two first-degree murder charges, as well as an attempted-murder charge for attacking a neighbor who had tried to intervene, but concluded that he did not. He said journal entries, text messages and several witnesses spoke to Harrouff’s “grandiose delusions” in the days preceding the attacks.
>>RELATED A daughter's grief: Harrouff homicides still scar my family memories
Resnick has been a consultant on several high-profile cases, including the trials of Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh and Andrea Yates, the Texas woman who drowned her five children in a bathtub one by one. He also was a consultant in the Palm Beach rape trial of William Kennedy Smith in 1991.
King said the report was "conducted by one of the country’s foremost experts in forensic psychiatry."
“This evaluation confirms Austin could not form the requisite intent to commit these crimes due to his severe mental illness. Austin was undergoing a psychotic event at the time of the incident and did not know that his conduct was wrong,” she wrote in a statement.
According to Resnick's findings, after interviews with Harrouff, family and friends, as well as a review of records surrounding the case, Resnick said that in addition to the lycanthropy delusions, Harrouff also believed there was an evil force or a demon attempting to kill him.
In the days leading up to the attack, family members reported Harrouff acting strangely: saying he was invincible, that he had superpowers, that he believed he was getting more powerful and that he was feeling like Jesus.
During his interview with Harrouff, Resnick said that in the hours before the attack, Harrouff, then 19, felt he had “special powers” like an animal who could run fast and jump high. Harrouff told Resnick he thought it was “really cool” to be half-man, half-dog and felt connections to dogs around him. After family and friends noticed he was acting strangely, he said his father attempted to give him Xanax to calm him down, but that he refused to take it.
>>RELATED Austin Harrouff's parents details the hours before face-biting homicides
That evening, when Harrouff left the Duffy’s Sports Grill in Jupiter where he was eating dinner with his family, he thought he saw a “dark figure with a white face” and believed it to be “evil.” He said he ran from the area and to a “lighted garage to ask for help in getting him.”
In the garage was Mishcon. Family said she and Stevens used the garage as an entertaining area for family and friends, one outfitted with a fridge and couches. Ivy Stevens told The Palm Beach Post last year that on any given day, she could find her father painting or smoking a cigar while Mishcon would be sitting on the couch reading on her Kindle or dancing around to music.
"(John Stevens was) out walking the dog and thinking he was just coming home and then to see this monster in his garage. How do you react?" Ivy Stevens said of her father. "(He would have been) in a total state of shock. And then suffering for so long."
Resnick said Harrouff had a “patchy memory” of what happened in the garage but said when Mischon screamed, “he thought she was a ‘witch’ and he was afraid that he would be harmed.” That’s when he said he attacked her.
Harrouff told Resnick after he stabbed Mischon, he drank a bottle of “alcohol or something” in the garage, then he saw a “guy in the doorway” and a dog.
“I think I stabbed him, too,” Harrouff told Resnick.
Harrouff said he didn’t remember much else other than the dog and a man screaming at him. He said he doesn’t remember biting Stevens or any interaction with sheriff's deputies. The next thing he remembered was waking up in a hospital. Harrouff was at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach for several weeks.
Sheriff’s deputies said when they transported Harrouff to the hospital, he told them he ate something bad.
"What did you eat?" a sergeant asked.
"Humans," Harrouff replied.
This story was originally published to PalmBeachPost.com, and shared to GateHouse Media's sites across Florida.