Fort Worth

Tonya Couch, the ‘affluenza’ mom, says she cannot get a fair trial in Tarrant County

Video: Tonya Couch change of venue hearing

Stephanie Patten, representing Tonya Couch in a motion to change venue, questions Fort Worth attorney Terri Moore about the adverse publicity prompting the request to relocate the trial.
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Stephanie Patten, representing Tonya Couch in a motion to change venue, questions Fort Worth attorney Terri Moore about the adverse publicity prompting the request to relocate the trial.

Ethan Couch, the “Affluenza” teen who received probation after killing four and seriously injuring two people in a 2013 drunk driving crash, has managed to stay out of the headlines recently.

Ethan’s mother, Tonya Couch, has not.

Tonya Couch’s lawyers argued Tuesday that her media exposure has been so harsh and so negative that there is no way that she can get a fair trial in Tarrant County.

Tonya Couch and her attorneys have filed a motion with the court that she meet her moment of truth anywhere except in Fort Worth.

State District Judge Wayne Salvant asked attorneys Tuesday to submit more documentation and he would make a decision after completing his review.

Tonya Couch is charged with hindering the apprehension of a felon and money laundering for helping her son flee to Mexico in 2015. Recently, she had been in and out of jail in connection with various probation violations.

She is accused of withdrawing $30,000 from a bank account and hiding with Ethan in Mexico after he missed a probation appointment in 2015. Ethan Couch was sentenced to 10 years probation in the case but had been jailed for violating the conditions of his probation.

Terri Moore, a Fort Worth attorney, testified that she does not believe Tonya Couch can get a fair trial in Tarrant County. There will be some people who might lie to get on the jury because of various motives and there will be those who believe they can be fair and impartial, but they will not be able to, she said.

“I have no doubt in my mind that Tonya Couch will not receive a fair trial in Tarrant County,” Moore said. “Just from what’s been said to me by members of my own family.“

For the past five years, local news media have publicized numerous details concerning the Couch cases, both the son and the mother, Moore said.

Because of what happened in Ethan Couch’s case, with him getting probation, and then fleeing to Mexico and the initial drunk driving fatalities and injuries, the public has formed an impression, Moore said.

“It’s comments about both the mother and the son,” Moore said. “They would say things very negatively about the mother. It’s all very negative. It’s a hostile negative. The outrage in this case is on multiple fronts.”

The son’s trial so outraged the community that attitudes about the son spilled onto the mother, Moore said.

If prosecutors were to really become philosophical, they would be the ones to call for the change of venue, Moore said.

“Their job is to seek justice, not win cases,” Moore said.

Tim Moore, also a Fort Worth attorney, testified Tuesday that he does not believe that Tonya Couch can get a fair trial in Tarrant County.

“The news coverage I’ve seen, of course there was the initial coverage of her son that was highly critical of her. There was the affluenza coinage that spread all over the country,” Moore said. “The reaction from the public was a negative reaction. It would be hard for her to get a fair trial, in my opinion.”

But Sean Colston, a former Tarrant County assistant district attorney who now works with the Dallas County district attorney’s office, testified that Tonya Couch could get a fair trial in Fort Worth.

“You’ll find there are a lot of people who don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the media coverage like we do in the courthouse,” Colston said.

This story includes material from Star-Telegram archives
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Mitch Mitchell is an award-winning reporter covering courts and crime for the Star-Telegram. Additionally, Mitch’s past coverage on municipal government, healthcare and social services beats allow him to bring experience and context to the stories he writes.
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