Bud Kennedy

Tarrant DA Sharen Wilson talks Couch, Mexico and that sentence

District Attorney Sharen Wilson addresses a Republican women’s club, including spouses and primary candidates, Saturday at a North Sylvania Avenue restaurant.
District Attorney Sharen Wilson addresses a Republican women’s club, including spouses and primary candidates, Saturday at a North Sylvania Avenue restaurant. Star-Telegram

Call it Sharen Wilson Unplugged.

Away from floodlights and reporters asking, “So, how do you feel,” the first-term Tarrant County district attorney talked casually Saturday morning about the fear and frustration prosecutors have over juvenile fugitive Ethan Couch.

Speaking without notes at a Republican women’s breakfast, the lawyer and former 24-year state district judge said she is not sure when or even if Couch, 18, will return from Mexico for possible detention until his 19th birthday, April 11, over a deadly 2013 drunken-driving crash.

“One reporter asked me whether money matters here in the U.S. in the courts,” she said.

The reporter was asking whether the wealthy Couch family had bought him out of juvenile detention and into a short treatment center stay. But Wilson had her own answer.

“I don’t think it matters here in Tarrant County,” she told the Fort Worth Republican Women: “But I think it matters in Mexico.”

That’s what U.S. Marshals Service Chief Deputy Richard Hunter meant Dec. 30 when he said at a Houston news conference: “The Couches have legal counsel. … They could pay as much money as they want to drag this thing out.”

I can’t remember anything that has upset our community as much as that decision.

Tarrrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson, a former judge in her first term as DA

Wilson spoke to the club candidly. When she stood to speak, at a North Sylvania Avenue restaurant, she looked around and said with a grin: “Well, I know what y’all want to talk about.”

She made a disdainful passing reference to the “juvenile authorities,” apparently meaning the Tarrant County Juvenile Probation Department: “I don’t trust them anymore.”

(Couch’s county probation officer couldn’t find him for a week, but it was not until after he missed a Dec. 10 meeting that officials issued a fugitive warrant.)

As she did at a Dec. 29 news conference, Wilson neither supported nor criticized retired juvenile District Judge Jean Boyd’s sentence.

By Texas law, a ‘goal and purpose’ of juvenile justice is ‘treatment, training and rehabiltation.’

“The standard [in juvenile court] is what is in the best interest of the child,” Wilson said.

Boyd, a leader in state juvenile justice reforms promoting probation and treatment instead of violence-prone and ineffective state facilities, had said at Couch’s sentencing that other teens sent to detention never got treatment as directed. Instead, she ordered Couch to treatment and probation.

“She’s a long-standing, well-respected judge, and something made her think he was salvageable,” Wilson said.

“I don’t know what it was. I don’t know whether I agree. But we need to get him into adult court and into those programs. … I’m not writing anybody off, but he needs to be in the adult system.”

Wilson said when she started her campaign early in 2014, Couch’s probation “was all anybody talked about. … I can’t remember anything that has upset our community as much as that decision.”

That was before the beer pong, the farewell party, the $30,000 in cash, the Puerto Vallarta escape or the strippers.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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