During the interview, conducted in October over video chat, Phil McGraw asked Austin Harrouff a question: How did Harrouff feel when he saw a picture of John Stevens and Michelle Mishcon and realized, as McGraw put it, “that these were the people that this has happened to”?
“I felt terrible,” Harrouff replied. “And I really, really don’t have words to explain how I feel. It’s like, it’s like a nightmare.”
A bit later, McGraw, host of the “Dr. Phil” show, asked Harrouff what would he say to any family members of the couple who might be watching.
“I’m sorry for their loss,” Harrouff said. “And I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me. And I’m so sorry, and I never wanted this to happen.”
Then Harrouff broke down, sobbing.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “It’s like a nightmare.”
Harrouff is charged in the grisly August 2016 slayings of Stevens and Mishcon, a horrific attack that unfolded at the couple’s home in Tequesta, Fla. Harrouff, who was 19-year-old college student at the time, stands accused of fatally stabbing the south Florida couple and trying to bite the face off one of the victims.
He is also charged with the attempted murder of a man who heard 59-year-old Stevens and 53-year-old Mishcon scream and then tried to help.
The “Dr. Phil” show is expected to air the video interview Thursday.
In court documents filed last week, Martin County Circuit Judge Lawrence Mirman ruled in favor of the media, writing that restricting the tape’s dissemination is “not necessary to prevent a serious and imminent threat to a fair trial.”
“From its content, it is apparent that this video interview was conducted at the request of the Defendant or, more likely, his father while the defendant was hospitalized after the events giving rise to his arrest,” Mirman wrote in the ruling. “Apparently, the police had absolutely nothing to do with the creation of this item of evidence.”
“The judge down there … clearly understood that the law favors the release of the tape once it’s been made,” Lyrissa Lidsky, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. “I mean, the First Amendment precedent that issue is very clear, that you can’t have a prior restraint against releasing that kind of information. So I think the judge deserves real praise for understanding the First Amendment well and doing exactly what precedent would say he was supposed to do.”
Lidsky, who said she was not surprised that the tape was released, could not immediately recall another example like Harrouff’s “Dr. Phil” interview — where a defendant facing murder charge conducted a televised interview before his or her trial began — but said there certainly have been cases in which a defense attorney sought to block information from coming out that they thought might be prejudicial to their client.
“That’s a fairly common scenario, where defense attorneys, and sometimes prosecutors too, seek to block kind of sensational information from coming before the public eye,” she said.
A criminal defendant has a right to a fair trial under the Constitution, she said, but “a fair trial doesn’t mean a trial in which the jury has heard nothing at all about the case.” In a high-profile case such as Harrouff’s, which has made national headlines, a jury will have often heard something about it.
“I’ve watched the ‘Dr. Phil’ tape, and I don’t think the tape is going to so prejudice the defendant that he can’t get a fair trial,” she said.
Lidsky said that she believed most jurors “really want to do the right thing,” and in high-profile cases, there would always be information in the news.
“It’s a strength of our system that we don’t try to control the publication of truthful information by the press,” Lidsky said. “That we rely on the wisdom of jurors to be able to decide a case based on the evidence presented in court.”
Lidsky said the tape might come up as evidence during Harrouff’s trial. An interview such as this, she said, wasn’t something that criminal defense attorneys would advise a client to give.
“Because you don’t know what might be asked or how it might look. It’s always ill-advised for a criminal defendant to give an interview without consulting his or her lawyer first. Like I say, I personally have watched the video, and it goes on for a long, long time. It’s a fairly long interview, and if you’re a criminal defense attorney, you definitely want to be able to control what information comes out regarding your client,” Lidsky said. “In general, attorneys don’t do unscripted.”
Harrouff’s legal team said in a statement that the video represents “just one of many pieces of evidence demonstrating the deterioration of Austin’s mental health.”
The bizarre case began on an August night, when a sheriff’s deputy responded to a 911 call in an upscale Florida neighborhood. The deputy discovered a shirtless person on top of a man he had apparently just stabbed, “biting and removing pieces of the victim’s face with his teeth,” Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said.
The deputy fired a stun gun at the shirtless man, but it didn’t have an effect. A police dog couldn’t deter the attacker from biting the dead man’s face, authorities said.
“He was exhibiting abnormal levels of strength,” Snyder said at a news conference after the attack.
Harrouff — a college student was in the area to visit family and hang with fraternity brothers — didn’t have anything in his past that would have indicated any violent tendencies, Snyder told The Post.
His family met at a nearby restaurant for dinner, but Harrouff grew agitated and walked out of the restaurant. His worried family called the Jupiter police, asking officers to help locate him.
According to the Palm Beach Post, Austin Harrouff’s interview with McGraw was recorded in early October, while he was still hospitalized after the attacks. His father has also spoken with McGraw in an interview that already aired.
In the video, Harrouff, who has since turned 20 and is being held in the Martin County jail, relays fuzzy recollections about the fatal confrontation. For example, McGraw asked whether he felt he was thinking straight after leaving the restaurant, or if he was confused. “I don’t remember thinking at all,” he responded. “I just — it’s like a blur, sort of. So. I don’t think I was thinking straight.”
McGraw also asked Harrouff a series of questions possible drug use, including whether he took steroids (“Never tried it once,” Harrouff said. “Never.”) or whether he knew what flakka was. (“Is it a crystal or something? I don’t know,” Harrouff said. “My dad told me it was a crystal or something.”)
After the attack, the local sheriff indicated that he thought Harrouff might have been high on flakka, a synthetic drug. The Associated Press has reported that hallucinogenic drugs didn’t show up on Harrouff’s blood tests. Harrouff in the video chat denied using the drug and said he didn’t know anyone who had ever taken it.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through,” Harrouff tells McGraw, when asked whether it was hard for him to imagine that he attacked Mishcon and Stevens. “I never imaged that this would ever happen. And I’m deeply sorry to the family that was affected. I hope that something like this never happens again. I didn’t ever want to consciously do something like this. I never planned it. I didn’t want to do it. And, like, I don’t know what to say.”
After Harrouff breaks down in tears during the interview, McGraw asks if he is ashamed of what he did.
“Yes, yes, yes,” Harrouff says, weeping. “Yes.”