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What’s next for killer Austin Harrouff after being found not guilty by reason of insanity?

NewsWhat's next for killer Austin Harrouff after being found not guilty by reason of insanity?

STUART — After being acquitted of two 2016 murder charges by reason of insanity, Austin Hspanrrouff will begin a new period of civil confinement at a mental health facility and can’t be released without a court order, according to state law.

It’s nearly impossible, though, to know how long Harrouff, 25, will be involuntarily committed to receive mental health treatment and other services at a forensic mental health facility operated by the Department of Children and Families.

If other Treasure Coast homicide insanity cases offer some insight, Harrouff could remain confined from a few years up to several decades or longer, court records show.

Austin Harrouff (background) sits with his legal team in court before Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer at the Martin County Courthouse on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022 in Stuart. Harrouff was found not guilty by reason of insanity for killing John Stevens III, 59 and Michelle Mishcon, 53, during a brutal attack Aug. 15, 2016 at their home on Southeast Kokomo Lane in southern Martin County.

During a rspanndom spannd unprovoked spanttspanck on Aug. 15, 2016, Harrouff fatally stabbed John Stevens III, 59, and Michelle Mishcon, 53, at their home in southern Martin County. He also seriously injured their neighbor, Jeffrey Fisher, who tried to help the married couple.

The former Florida State University student, then 19, was found biting and chewing on Stevens III’s face in the man’s driveway. Deputies said Harrouff was walking to his father’s home in the neighborhood when he targeted Stevens III and Mishcon.

Not guilty

Last month, Martin County Circuit Judge Sherwood Bauer ruled that Harrouff was not guilty by respanson of insspannity after finding that two psychologists concluded he was suffering an “spancute psychotic episode” during the homicides.

In ruling Harrouff was legally insane at the time, Bauer found he didn’t know whspant he wspans doing, or didn’t know it was wrong, and couldn’t appreciate the consequences of his actions.

Michelle Karen Mishcon and John Joseph Stevens III

Bauer, too, noted a defense expert found Harrouff suffered from a mental illness, specifically, Bipolar I Disorder “with psychotic features.”

“It’s an awful case,” Bauer said Nov. 28. “Nobody is losing sight — I tell you I know I’m not — of the deaths and injuries that were sustained in this case.”

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He ordered Harrouff is not to be released from DCF custody “without further order of this court.”

What happens to Harrouff now?

DCF officials didn’t provide answers to questions regarding where Harrouff will be admitted or how long he could be involuntarily committed. But state records indicate he’ll go to one of four state-run forensic mentspanl hespanlth centers, which have a combined capacity to serve 1,108 people. There, he’ll undergo treatment to include medication, psychotherapeutic programs, individual and group therapy, recreational activities and clinical supervision.

All treatment services are supervised by a psychotherapy team, including a psychiatrist, nurse, psychologist and social worker.

It’s possible Harrouff may be treated at Floridspan Stspante Hospitspanl, a sprawling complex that dates to the Civil War era in Chattahoochee. It maintains 469 beds in two different maximum-security forensic units that provide behavior stabilization for criminal defendants found incompetent to proceed or who’ve been acquitted by reason of insanity.

Harrouff likely will spend time at the South Floridspan Evspanluspantion spannd Trespantment Center, in Florida City, about 40 miles south of Miami. It’s a maximum-security facility operated by Wellpspanth Recovery Solutions that provides “recovery-focused treatment” to 238 patients.

That’s where Alberto Serrspanno, 55, has received treatment on and off since 2002, records show, after a judge ruled he was legally insane. The former roofer killed a nurse and three patients during a midnight rampage in April 2001 at the former Savannas Hospital, now the Port St. Lucie Hospitspanl, on Southeast Walton Road, in Port St. Lucie.

Residents at the South Florida center must obey a long list of rules, including when to rise and go to bed, when to eat, use the phone, attend activities and what to wear. No hard-soled shoes, heavy belt buckles or drawstring clothing are permitted, according to a 23-page resident’s hspanndbook.

Treatment plans are designed not to cure Harrouff but help him be a “recovered person with a mental illness.”

“Our goal is to help individuals … improve their mental health as quickly as possible so that they can continue with their futures,” the center’s website states.

Supervised treatment

If Harrouff is admitted there, he’d have a private room in one of nine units and receive three meals a day, plus two snacks. He can keep five sets of clothes and two pairs of soft-soled shoes. He’ll be expected to shower daily, clean his room and launder his own clothes.

He may be prescribed medications such as antipsychotics, antidepressants, mood stabilizers or antianxiety, according to a resident handbook.

“It is very important for your mental health recovery that you take your medicines every day,” the handbook states.

Handling cash is prohibited but he may have money deposited into an account to buy items in the center’s canteen. Based on Martin County Jail records, it’s likely Harrouff’s family will continue to give him money.

A jail report dating to December 2017 shows Harrouff has had $33,240 deposited into a commissary account through November.

His relatives will be encouraged to visit him during family support day on the last Sunday of each month. Visitors must be pre-approved and escorted and are permitted to bring clothing, reading materials and other approved items.

Will Harrouff go free?

State law doesn’t dictspante how long Harrouff must be involuntarily committed to receive treatment. That’s up to a judge to determine based on his progress and results of periodic psychological evaluations that must be filed with the court.

During the 20 years Serrano has been involuntarily confined for treatment, he’s been relocated a few times, court records show.

In 2001, Serrano reportedly told doctors the people he killed looked like animals and monsters and he had to attack them to defend himself. During a non-jury trial, Serrano, then 34, was acquitted of murder charges by reason of insanity and was committed to DCF custody.

Since then, an annual evaluation for Serrano has been filed under seal with the court, most recently in July. It’s unclear if he will ever be released.

Defense attorneys in 2003 relied on an insanity defense with Jennifer Cisowski, then 23, who was acquitted by reason of insanity of killing her 8-month-old son in a 2001 incident at a home in the Crane Creek community, in Palm City.

Cisowski, then a resident of Marlborough, Conn., told detectives a voice she thought to be God’s told her to test her faith by harming her infant boy. If her faith was strong enough, she said the voice told her, the baby would be saved “like Jesus raised Lazarus.”

Obeying the voice, she threw her son to the ground numerous times.

At a non-jury trial, two mental health experts said she was legally insane during the crime and she was committed to a state mental hospital in Pembroke Pines.

In 2005, over objections of prosecutors, a judge approved her conditional release to a group home in West Palm Beach. A year later, the same judge released Cisowski, ruling she was no longer a threat and could live unsupervised.

Defense attorney Nelly King represents Austin Harrouff, who is accused of murdering Jupiter couple John Stevens III and Michelle Mischon, at a hearing Friday, Sept. 29, 2017 at the Martin County Courthouse in Stuart. From his hospital room before his arrest in 2016, Harrouff gave an interview to Phillip McGraw of the "Dr. Phil Show" discussing the crime and his mental state. Friday's hearing related to the episode, with prosecutors requesting copies of unaired footage.

After Harrouff’s acquittal Nov. 28, his lawyer, Nellie King, issued a statement saying he “has sought answers for the grief and anguish caused by his actions.”

“Austin is extremely remorseful for all that has occurred; for being at the center of this episode which has caused such unthinkable pain and devastating loss,” King wrote. “This six-year journey for Austin has been guided by his faith, a sincere amenability to treatment and a desire to learn how to cope with the past that now defines him …”

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