Fort Worth

Authorities want Tonya Couch to wear GPS monitor when she bonds out

Tonya Couch, center, is taken by authorities to a waiting car after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, Dec. 31, 2015, in Los Angeles.
Tonya Couch, center, is taken by authorities to a waiting car after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, Dec. 31, 2015, in Los Angeles. AP

“Affluenza” teen Ethan Couch’s mother will seek a reduction in her $1 million bond when she gets back to Fort Worth, her lawyer said Thursday, and prosecutors want her to wear a monitor.

“We have capital murderers who don’t get a $1 million bond,” said lawyer Stephanie Patten of Fort Worth.

Ethan Couch, 18, who was tracked to Mexico after violating his probation in connection with the deaths of four people in 2013 while he was driving drunk, was being detained in Mexico City on Thursday, officials said. He and his mother, Tonya Couch, 48, were taken into custody in Puerto Vallarta on Monday.

Tonya Couch, 48, of Burleson faces a charge of hindering apprehension, a third-degree felony punishable by two to 10 years in prison.

Sharen Wilson, Tarrant County District Attorney, said Thursday that Tonya Couch was given a high bond to assure her appearance in court.

“A judge will probably lower that, but we will seek to have conditions placed on her where she will be monitored,” Wilson said. She also said the bail must be made in open court in Fort Worth.

Patten said the request to outfit Tonya Couch with a GPS monitor is reasonable. Patten said she believes her client has appeared at every court proceeding that she has been asked to attend and does not pose a danger to the community.

Tonya Couch will not fight extradition to Texas, Patten said. According to Los Angeles police spokeswoman Norma Eisenman, she has a court appearance scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Patten said she doesn’t know whether Tonya Couch has received extradition paperwork, but she expects Tarrant County officials to bring her client to Texas once the papers have been signed.

“Tonya is currently in the custody of California authorities in Los Angeles,” says a statement Patten released. “She looks forward to being returned to Texas as quickly as possible. While the public may not like what she did, may not agree with what she did, or may have strong feelings against what she did, make no mistake — Tonya did not violate any law of the State of Texas and she is eager to have her day in court.”

She is scheduled to appear in court in Fort Worth on Jan. 14. Patten said in an interview that she expects to seek the bond reduction and then prepare for a court case. She said she fully expects the case to go to trial rather than be resolved through a plea bargain.

“They have made it clear that they believe she deserves time in the penitentiary,” Patten said. “This case has just taken on a life of its own. The sheriff, the U.S. Marshals, the district attorney, all appear to be personally invested in this case. So it does not appear that it will be settled.”

Hate messages

Patten said hate messages on social media may have motivated Tonya Couch to leave the country with her son.

“It was a concern of hers, not just him being in prison, but him being in the community, as the most hated teen in America,” Patten said. “If I had gotten that amount of hate mail and press, I can only imagine what I might have done.”

Patten said she also is worried about the teenager’s safety. “If the online comments are any indication.” she said. “I’d be concerned just reading what I’ve read yesterday. I don’t know who is behind those statements, but the people seem very, very angry.”

A National Immigration Institute official told The Associated Press that Tonya Couch was sent home because immigration authorities did not receive a judge’s injunction like the one that temporarily blocked the deportation of her son. Ethan Couch may not be returning to Fort Worth from Mexico soon, authorities said.

It was not immediately clear why Tonya Couch was not included in the judge’s injunction.

Bail is set at $1 million with the condition that it be made in open court here in Fort Worth. ... That way bail cannot be posted at any other location.

Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson

Ethan Couch is serving 10 years of probation for killing four people and injuring several others in a 2013 drunken driving crash in southern Tarrant County.

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.

In early December, a short video posted on Twitter shows a teen who appears to be Ethan Couch playing beer pong at a party which would be a probation violation.

A directive similar to an arrest warrant in adult cases was issued on Dec. 11 for Couch after his probation officer was unable to contact him.

He and his mother then fled to Mexico in a pickup, officials said.


Late Wednesday, Ethan Couch was taken from Guadalajara to Mexico City, an official said, to the Agujas immigration detention center, where an official told The Associated Press he will have no special privileges such as the ones high profile criminals can sometimes buy in Mexican prisons.

Couch’s wealthy upbringing may not prepare him for the center’s common sleeping areas and bathrooms, and concrete wash basins for hand-washing clothes.

The white-washed, high-fenced facility usually houses several dozen immigrants, mainly Central Americans.

Couch will sleep on a cot or bunk in a semi-open bedroom shared with two or three other detainees. Unarmed immigration guards patrol the unit, and a closed-circuit camera system is constantly filming in most area other than the common bathrooms. Armed guards are posted at the outside gates and walls, the AP reported.

Along with three meals per day, Couch will have access to watch TV or movies in one of the Spartan common rooms, or go to an outside patio where there is a basketball court and a small soccer pitch.

He will have unlimited access to telephones, and access to medical, dental and psychological care.

But the Mexico City holding center has been the subject of complaints in the past, especially by detainees held there for extended periods of time. Detainees have complained about the quality of the food and harsh discipline.

Former FBI special agent Danny Defenbaugh said Thursday that the uncertainty of Ethan Couch’s return is nothing unusual in Mexico.

“Money will talk down there,” said Defenbaugh, who was employed by the FBI for 33 years and operates a security company in Dallas. “There’s a different type of justice down there.”

Ethan Couch is still being held in a Mexican lockup after filing a writ of amparo, which sends the case to immigration court. He could be held in Mexico for at least two weeks.

U.S. Marshal Richard Hunter said both mother and son, who were picked up by Mexican immigration agents in Puerto Vallarta after being provided an address by U.S. officials, had filed separate writs of amparo, which sends the case to immigration court. Hunter said amparo cases typically take two weeks to two months.

Fort Worth attorneys Scott Brown and Reagan Wynn, Ethan Couch’s attorneys in Fort Worth, said they helped Couch’s family find counsel in Mexico for the teen.

The Mexican attorney alerted Wynn and Brown late Wednesday afternoon that a Mexican federal judge granted an injunction and stay of all proceedings.

“We believe this means Ethan will remain where he is until the Mexican federal judge ascertains whether or not Ethan’s rights are, or potentially will be, violated,” Brown and Wynn said in a statement Thursday. “Accordingly, we believe that, until the Mexican federal judge enters an appropriate order authorizing it, Ethan will not be returned to the United States.”

The Fort Worth attorneys said they were uncertain how long the legal process in Mexico will take.

ABC news reported Thursday that a handgun was found in a hotel room where Couch and his mother had stayed in Puerto Vallarta.

Potential punishment

State District Judge Jean Boyd, who is now retired, sentenced Ethan Couch to probation on four counts of intoxication manslaughter in December 2013. Couch was also ordered to enter a “lockdown” addiction treatment facility and not to drive or use alcohol or drugs for 10 years.

During a hearing in February 2014, Boyd told the families that her decision had nothing to do with a psychologist’s comment about “affluenza” during his testimony for the defense.

The stiffest punishment Ethan Couch can receive for fleeing the country while on probation is several months in jail, Wilson said Tuesday.

Because Couch is on juvenile probation, any punishment would be limited to the terms of probation set in juvenile court. The terms don’t expire until he turns 19 in April.

A hearing to transfer his case to an adult court is scheduled for Jan. 19. The change to adult status would extend his time on probation

Ethan’s father, Fred, and Tonya Couch were divorced in 2007, public records show.

On Aug. 10, Tonya Couch sold her 3,964-square-foot house at 1719 Burleson Retta Road in Burleson, deed records show. The house, built in 1974, sits on six acres.

She and Fred Couch bought the property in 2000, but the deed was transferred into Tonya Couch’s name only in 2007, according to deed records.

The Tarrant Appraisal District values the house at $343,000.

Staff reporters Ryan Osborne, Monica S. Nagy, Bud Kennedy, Sandra Baker and Deanna Boyd contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press.

Domingo Ramirez Jr.: 817-390-7763, @mingoramirezjr

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3

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