Fort Worth judge declines to add jail time for Couch

02/05/2014 7:07 PM

11/12/2014 5:23 PM

Ethan Couch, the teenager who drove drunk and caused a crash that killed four people last summer, will not have any jail time added to his sentence of 10 years’ probation, an extra punishment that Tarrant County prosecutors asked state District Judge Jean Boyd to impose on Wednesday.

Boyd declined that request. She ordered Couch, 16, to enter a “lock down” addiction treatment facility and to not drive or use alcohol or drugs for 10 years, according to a news release from the Tarrant County district attorney’s office. She ordered his parents to pay for his treatment.

In December, Boyd sentenced Couch to probation on four counts of intoxication manslaughter but did not address two intoxication assault cases against him. At a sentencing hearing Wednesday, prosecutors asked her to add jail time on those cases.

Before the hearing, Boyd ordered everyone except the immediate families of Couch and his victims to leave the courtroom. Attorneys representing the Star-Telegram and five other media outlets had asked her to let them make a case to stay in the courtroom before closing proceedings regarding Couch. On Tuesday, Boyd denied that request without explanation.

Boyd’s probation conditions set no minimum time that Couch must stay in rehab, according to Eric Boyles, whose wife and a daughter were killed in the chain of collisions on June 15.

When Couch completes treatment, which will be determined by the court and the professional staff at the facility, he will be released under the other terms of his probation, Boyles said.

“After six, seven, nine months, who knows, he walks out and is able to move on with his life,” Boyles said.

Fourteen facilities were considered, and four declined to accept Couch because of the intense media scrutiny around the case, Boyles said. The facility chosen is somewhere in Texas. Its location was not disclosed.

Boyd told the families that her decision had nothing to do with the “affluenza” defense mentioned by a psychologist who testified on Couch’s behalf in December, Boyles said.

‘Poison’ to the system

After Wednesday’s hearing, Couch’s attorney, Reagan Wynn, said Boyd’s years of experience in the juvenile justice system made her an ideal judge for this case. It is wrong that she was castigated nationally for doing what she believed was right, Wynn said.

“The media circus had a direct effect on this case, and I believe it is poison to the criminal justice system,” Wynn said.

Couch’s story became a national controversy about an affluent white teen who got probation instead of hard time, and that is disheartening, Wynn said.

“The juvenile justice system is not the adult justice system,” Wynn said. “The juvenile justice system is about rehabilitation.”

Prosecutor Richard Alpert told reporters after the hearing, “There are problems with the juvenile justice system. We’ve talked to the Legislature and we will get something done.”

Another closed hearing

Wednesday’s hearing was the third time in recent weeks that Boyd has closed her courtroom. The other two times were during a hearing in a murder case involving another juvenile.

Reporters from the Star-Telegram and other local news media waited outside her courtroom.

Boyles said Riley Shaw, Tarrant County prosecutor, made a valiant effort to convince Boyd to open the hearing to the public.

“In my opinion, it was a dead duck before the hearing started,” Boyles said.

Civil lawsuits filed

About 11:45 p.m. June 15, Couch was speeding down Burleson-Retta Road in southern Tarrant County in a F-350 pickup with seven teenage passengers when he veered off the road, clipped an SUV and smashed into its driver and three other people.

Killed were Breanna Mitchell, 24, of Lillian, whose SUV had broken down; Brian Jennings, a youth minister at a Burleson church who had stopped to help; and Hollie Boyles, 52, and her daughter, Shelby Boyles, 21, who had come from their house nearby to help.

The intoxication assault cases that prosecutors brought up on Wednesday involved Sergio Molina and Solaiman Mohman, teenagers who were riding in the bed of Couch’s pickup. They and 10 other people were injured.

Alexander Lemus, Molina’s older brother, said Boyd’s decisions are an injustice to his family. Molina can blink and smile, but he can do very little else, Lemus said after the hearing.

“You’re drunk and high and you’ve got kids yelling at you to stop,” Lemus said. “There should have been some time served. There should be repercussions and consequences for everything that you do.”

Six civil lawsuits that have been filed against Couch, his parents, Fred and Tonya Couch, and the family’s company, Cleburne Metal Works, have been consolidated and transferred into 96th state District Court, presided over by Judge R. H. Wallace.

Marla Mitchell, Breanna Mitchell’s mother, said no amount of money will allow Couch to escape his guilt.

“I don’t believe the world will ever take their eyes off him,” Mitchell said.

This report includes material from Star-Telegram archives.

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