Friday, November 24, 2017
Public safety

FSU student Austin Harrouff accused in Florida face-biting attack headed to jail

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FORT LAUDERDALE — A college student who deputies say they caught biting a dead man's face after stabbing him and his wife to death outside their Florida home was being released from the hospital Monday and taken to jail almost two months after the attack, authorities said.

Austin Harrouff, 19, was expected to arrive at the jail Monday afternoon, said Martin County Sheriff William Snyder. Snyder said Harrouff was charged Sunday with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder for the Aug. 15 slayings of John Stevens, 59, and Michelle Mishcon, 53, at their Tequesta home, and the stabbing of their neighbor.

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Harrouff had been hospitalized and sedated since shortly after the attack. Snyder has said Harrouff may have ingested caustic chemicals from the couple's garage during the attack. Harrouff's father, Dr. Wade Harrouff, a dentist, had said last month that his son's liver was failing, he had fluid in his lungs and his esophagus was bleeding.

"He will probably continue to need therapy," Snyder said. "We made it clear to the hospital that this is a jail, it is not a therapeutic place to be. We will do the best we can. We do have a medical unit but, for the most part, he is coming here for jail and not for therapy."

Snyder said Monday that the FBI is still conducting tests on Harrouff's blood to determine if he had taken any drugs.

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Deputies found the muscular former wrestler in his underwear, making animal noises and biting Stevens' face as he pinned his victim's body to the driveway.

Snyder said it took numerous deputies, jolts from a stun gun and a police dog to pry him off. The sheriff said deputies didn't shoot because they feared striking the victim, not knowing that he was likely already dead. They found Mishcon's body in the garage. If convicted of first-degree murder, he could face the death penalty or life in prison.

Harrouff is also accused of stabbing the couple's neighbor, Jeff Fisher, who tried to come to their aid before retreating, wounded, to call 911. Fisher was later released from a hospital.

Harrouff used a switchblade knife and "weapons of opportunity" from the couple's garage in the attack, creating what experienced homicide detectives called the most gruesome crime scene of their careers, the sheriff said.

The Florida State University exercise science major — a football lineman and wrestler in high school — told deputies arresting him that he was drug-free. "Test me. You won't find any drugs," he declared.

He has made no comments to investigators since, Snyder said Monday. He was incoherent when he was taken to the hospital and was soon put on a ventilator.

In a video he posted online five days before the attack, Harrouff suggested he may have taken steroids in the past, but said he doesn't use them now. If true, that could raise the possibility of "roid rage," which usually happens when a user is not actively taking the drug, said Jim Hall, an epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University who tracks illegal drug usage.

The FBI has been running tests to determine whether he was under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs such as flakka or bath salts, both of which have been linked to violent outbursts. Snyder said there were no traces of common street drugs — including cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine — in Harrouff's blood after the stabbings.

The toxicology reports will provide "a big piece of the unknown," Snyder has said.

What investigators do know is that Harrouff was having dinner with his father, sister and a friend at a restaurant about 4 miles from the victims' house when he apparently had words with his father. Surveillance video shows him calmly walking out about 45 minutes before the stabbings, and his family was concerned.

His mother, unaware of the attack, called police to report him missing; she said he had been acting strangely for about a week, claiming to have superpowers and to have been sent here to help people.

The victims lived a short distance from Harrouff's father and were known to sit in their garage with the door open, watching television and chatting with passers-by.

Harrouff's parents issued a statement days after the slayings expressing their condolences to the Stevens family and their apologies to Fisher.

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