Austin Harroff prosecutors lose bid to appoint a new psychiatrist

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Stewart — A judge on Friday rejected a request by prosecutors that a third mental health expert evaluate murder suspect Austin Harroff who claimed he was insane when he murdered a Tecosta couple in 2016.

After a two-hour hearing, Martin Sherwood Bauer County Circuit Judge denied a plaintiffs request to appoint a new mental health expert to evaluate Harroff for purposes of determining whether he was legal insane on August 15, 2016, when Killed Michelle Mishcon, 53, and John Stevens III, 59at their home in southeast Kokomo Lane in southern Martin County.

Friday’s ruling means that unless the state appeals Power’s order to the 4th Court of Appeals in West Palm Beach, Harroff’s non-jury trial will begin on November 28 as scheduled.

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Haroff, 25, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder with a weapon and one count of home burglary with assault or battery while armed. He charged some Stevens in the face and stomach before police forcibly pulled him over in a seemingly random and unprovoked attack.

He is also accused of attempted first-degree murder with a weapon in order to injure his neighbor, Jeffrey Fisher. Representatives reported that Harroff was walking to his father’s home in the neighborhood when he targeted Stevens III and Mishcon.

If convicted, Harroff faces two mandatory life sentences.

State attempt to swap mental health experts

Last month, prosecutors filed papers asking Bauer to agree to the state’s replacement of another mental health expert for Tampa neuropsychologist Michael Gamachy after he indicated he was resigning from about 25 criminal cases over personal health issues.

Gamache, who was appointed by the prosecution in March 2020, concluded that Haroff was not insane at the time of the murders. His conclusions contrasted with those of two other mental health experts who released reports in 2020.

Gamache made his findings after he evaluated the former Florida State University student on September 8, 2021 via Zoom, court records show.

During a hearing in June, though, Gamache stated that he had never diagnosed Harrouff’s condition and did not return a report on his findings.

In order for Haroff to be acquitted, he must convince a judge or jury that he had a disease or mental defect that prevented him from knowing what he was doing or its consequences. Or if he understood what he was doing and the consequences, “he didn’t know that what he was doing was wrong.”

Two psychologists – one appointed by the defense and one by the state – concluded that during the fatal attacks, then 19-year-old Haroff had an “acute psychotic episode” and was “unable to distinguish between right and wrong.”

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In court on Friday, Gamache appeared via Zoom and was questioned by Assistant Attorney General Anastasia Norman about his ability to continue working on the case.

“Dr. Gamashi, because at this point, are you physically incapable of participating in the state trial against Austin Harroff?” she asked.

He replied, “Yes, I am.”

“Even if it was done remotely or via Zoom?” Norman pressure.

“That’s right. Even if I were to testify remotely and listen to a remote defense expert… it would probably take 40 to 80 hours of my time preparing and during the trial,” Gamachi said, “and I am simply not physically able to do it in this time “.

Prosecutors indicated that they expect Gamache to be called as a cassation witness during Harrouff’s trial to respond to reports and opinions provided by mental health experts appointed by his defense team. When Bauer was initially granted a government request to hire Jamashi as a second mental health expert, he decided he would not agree to hire a third expert.

Norman Bauer told the state that the state had “tried to work very hard to try to solve it,” and until recently he believed Gamache would be able to continue with the case.

“And we thought he would be able to testify in a trial,” she said. “Obviously that is no longer the case.”

Despite this, Bauer seemed angry to hear Gamashi’s testimony that he had been telling prosecutors since 2020 that he had medical problems that were negatively affecting his health.

Gamache has repeatedly said that he alerted the public prosecutor that his medical problems were hampering his abilities.

When Bauer asked him directly about the nature of his ailments, Gamache refused to reveal them.

“Can I ask in general, is it a physical illness?” Bauer asked. “Or let’s call it mental illness? If you don’t want the answer that’s fine.”

“Your honor, I will respectfully beg for my right under the Florida Constitution not to disclose confidential health information,” Gamachi said. “I think that puts me in a very awkward position.”

Defense attorney Robert Watson argued against the state’s ability to appoint a third expert to assess Harrouff. He said Gamache appeared able to participate in Friday’s hearing, and noted that the defense had worked for several months to prepare for his expected testimony before the trial.

“The last resort at this point would be
to allow a different physician to come in and do an evaluation,” Watson said. “They don’t just get to rent a gun after renting a gun.”

Bauer seems to agree.

He said he had seen “nothing that would indicate to me and make me decide that he was not available to testify.”

“The state accepts the doctor’s representation without me knowing what the basis for that is” Bauer said. If you feel unwilling to contact him because you think he cannot participate in the proceedings or you do not want to disturb him or cause him any distress? It’s fine with me, either way is fine.”

possible call

After the court, Attorney General Tom Buckedall said they would consult about the possibility of appealing Power’s ruling with the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

“We have to fill in the facts and circumstances and ask for their opinion as to whether or not they believe there is any reasonable prospect of success,” Bekedal said.

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He said his office wanted Gamache to stay on the case because losing him now would be “kind of reinventing the wheel.”

“And that is why we encouraged him to stay. We never thought we would get to that point, where his health would deteriorate to the point where he wouldn’t be able to help us.” But, unfortunately, life happens. But the court took the position that life happens, and we have to deal with it.”

Melissa E. Holsman is a legal correspondent for TCPalm and Treasure Coast newspapers, and is a writer and co-host for unconfirmed terms, Real crime podcast. You can reach her at meilssa.holsman@tcpalm.com.

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