For two years, a Mansfield man who lost a best friend to Ethan Couch has quietly visited him in the county jail for prayer.
Now, with Couch nearly 21 and due release soon on a new and stricter probation, volunteer chaplain Tim Williams says the arrogant “affluenza teen” responsible for four drunk-driving deaths is wiser and worthy of grace and forgiveness.
“I haven't seen arrogance in Ethan in more than nine months,” said Williams, 43, best friend and wedding best man to Burleson youth pastor Brian Jennings, one of six victims killed or severely injured in a Father's Day 2013 crash.
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Two years ago, when Williams asked former Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson if he could meet Couch, just back from a probation-busting escape and manhunt in Mexico, Anderson replied, “Why would you want to do that?”
After their first tense meeting, Williams almost wondered the same thing.
But he was sure Jennings would want him to extend a hand.
“I am convinced that forgiveness works,” said Williams, a certified mediator and leader of a Fort Worth-based charity and ministry, Reconciliation Institute.
“What's the alternative? Not forgiving blocks you from moving forward. It's like an anchor around your soul.”
Now, Williams is delivering a message of faith and mercy.
He and Couch have been reading the book of Nehemiah's message of crisis and recovery, he said.
He said he believes Couch is ready to accept his guilt and live a more healthy life.
“I told him, 'You realize you owe everybody, right? Don't smirk.' … I told him he has to be surrounded by healthy influences. I think he's listening.”
Around here, the idea of forgiving Couch is radical.
After the wreck, District Judge Jean Boyd was unfairly blamed for carrying out state laws that send most juvenile offenders to treatment, not last-resort detention.
If anyone ever gave Couch the benefit of the doubt — Williams sees “quite a few gaps in parenting” — that ended along about the time of the beer pong video, the going-away party, the $30,000 withdrawn from a bank or the two-week runaway with his mother, Tonya, as fugitives in Mexico.
But in Fort Worth, we have some world-class role models for forgiveness.
In 1999, Wedgwood Baptist Church worshipers prayed to forgive a gunman the very next day after he came into a youth service carrying guns and a pipe bomb. Larry Gene Ashbrook killed seven adults and teens and shot seven more while they sang and prayed, then killed himself.
“Yes,” Williams said.
“He killed a friend of mine.”
Wedgwood youth pastor Shawn Brown, 23, had been Williams' classmate at Howard Payne University.
Shawn Brown's widow, Kathy Jo Rogers, has remarried and lives in Fort Worth.
She remembered Williams from Howard Payne. Coincidentally, she went to Burleson after Jennings' death to meet and share her experience with his widow, Shaunna.
“As far as Tim meeting with Ethan — hmmm,” she said, pausing to think.
“I can see how the road to forgiveness is different” because Couch survived, she said: “It's very hard to see [him] seem nonchalant.”
But then Rogers said: ”Forgiveness … is the only way to heal, and to heal others too.
“I hope we can all hear that a lesson has been learned and a life has been changed,” she said.
That lesson isn't only for Couch.