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Lawyer for Florida face-biting suspect calls wrongful death suit 'illogical' due to mental illness

The New York Daily News - 8/8/2018

Aug. 08--Florida face-biter Austin Harrouff, who is accused of killing a husband and wife during a zombie-like attack in 2016, was slapped with a wrongful death lawsuit by his victims' families -- but his attorney dismissed the legal action as "illogical" given her client's apparent mental illness.

Jodi Bruce filed the civil suit in Martin County Tuesday, nearly two years after her sister, Michelle Mishcon, 53, and her husband, John Stevens, 59, were killed inside the garage of their Florida home. When deputies arrived at the residence on Aug. 15, 2016, they discovered Harrouff gnawing on Stevens' face and making animal noises.

Standing outside the courthouse, the victims' loved ones express not only their frustration with the slow pace of the criminal case, but how Harrouff has been made out to be the victim of mental illness. Their suit alternatively claims the 20-year-old suspect demonstrated a clear pattern of drug and alcohol abuse as well as dangerous and violent behavior ahead of the bloody incident.

Harrouff frequently used drugs -- including marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, acid, Ecstasy, hallucinogenic mushrooms, Vayvanse, Xanax and Adderall -- and participated in "binge drinking" alcohol until he "blacked out," according the suit, which additionally alleged Harrouff's family would lock their doors out of fear over his behavior.

Harrouff's attorney, Nellie King, has previously said her client suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness at the time of the attacks and pushed back against Tuesday's filing.

"Mental illness is a disease as serious and as common as cancer. The Fetterman law firm, which represents the Mishcon and Stevens families, acknowledged Austin was insane when they wrote he was 'unable to formulate the requisite intent or understanding' at the time of the incident," she said in a statement Wednesday.

"Fetterman even used the Notice of Intent to Rely on Insanity filed by the defense to substantiate Austin was insane and did not intend to commit the acts. The fantastical and preposterous claims now presented by this very same law firm are illogical and transparent. Drugs had nothing to do with this, as evidenced by the toxicology reports. Staged press events in the pursuit of money cannot alter the realities of mental illness."

Martin County Sheriff's deputies initially suspected Harrouff had been high on flakka, an addictive substance linked to paranoia, hallucinations, and, at times, superhuman strength, at the time. FBI lab tests however concluded that he was not under the influence of flakka nor bath salts. They did uncover a small amount of THC in his system in addition to drugs that had been given to him at the hospital following the attack.

Still, the suit alleges Harrouff "consumed the contents of a bottle labeled Wesson cooking oil mixed with Parmesan cheese which was believed to contain a 'shroom concoction,'" before making his way to Mishcon and Stevens' home.

Mishcon was stabbed nine times, mostly in the back, and suffered eight fractured ribs among other injuries and died on the scene. Stevens returned home a short time later to find the "bloody body of his wife" being "mutilated" my Harrouff, according to the suit. The attacker then "proceeded to bite and otherwise eat" Stevens, who also died from his injuries.

Bruce said this week she is "tired and sickened" by the way Harrouff has been portrayed as an "ordinary college student" who acted out of mental illness because "there is no other explanation for what he did."

"In our opinion [Harrouff] is a monster and he deserves to pay with his life or a the minimum, be locked in prison for the rest of his life," she said at press conference. "But, again, we have no control over that."

The lawsuit is seeking damages exceeding $15,000.

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(c)2018 New York Daily News

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