‘Affluenza’ teenager remains in Mexico as mother deported

Published: Thursday 31st December 2015 by The News Editor

Comments (0)

A Mexican judge has delayed the deportation of a fugitive Texas teenager known for using an “affluenza” defence to a fatal drink-drive accident, but his mother, who fled with him, is being flown to the US.

Richard Hunter, chief deputy for the US Marshals Service in South Texas, said a three-day court injunction granted to Ethan Couch, 18, would probably take at least two weeks to resolve.

Later, the teenager’s mother Tonya Couch was put on a plane from Guadalajara to Los Angeles, where she will be handed over to US marshals.

An official with Mexico’s National Immigration Institute said she was sent to the United States because immigration authorities did not receive a judge’s injunction like the one that temporarily blocked her son’s deportation. Ethan Couch, meanwhile, has been moved to Mexico City.

Authorities believe the Couch, who was given only probation for the 2013 accident in Texas, fled to Mexico with his mother in November as prosecutors investigated whether he had violated his probation.

Both were taken into custody on Monday after a phone call for a pizza led to their capture in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta.

Wednesday’s ruling by the Mexican court gives a judge three days to decide whether Ethan Couch has grounds to challenge his deportation based on arguments that kicking him out of the country would violate his rights.

Mr Hunter said the legal move takes the decision out of an immigration agent’s hands and asks a higher authority to make the deportation decision. He said such cases could often take anywhere from two weeks to several months, depending on the priorities of the local courts.

“It also depends on the fact the Couches have legal counsel. And it seems to me, if they wanted to, they could pay them as much money as they want to drag this thing out,” Mr Hunter said.

“We’re hopeful that’s not the case. We’re hopeful the Mexican immigration court will make a quick and decisive decision and return the Couches to America.”

During the sentencing phase of Couch’s trial in 2013, a defence expert argued that his wealthy parents coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility – a condition the expert termed “affluenza”. The condition is not recognised as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association and its invocation during the legal proceedings sparked ridicule.

“Couch continues to make a mockery of the system,” said Fort Worth lawyer Bill Berenson, who represented Sergio Molina, who was paralysed and suffered severe brain damage in the crash.

Couch’s lawyers in the US said they could not comment on the case because they were not licensed to practice law in Mexico.

A drunk and speeding Couch crashed into an SUV near Fort Worth in June 2013, killing four people and injuring several others, including passengers in his pick-up truck.

He pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury. A judge sentenced him in juvenile court to 10 years’ probation and a stint in a rehabilitation centre.

The Mexican police report said when they were detained on Monday, the Couches behaved evasively, claimed to be carrying no IDs, gave inconsistent stories about their names and failed to provide proof of their legal migratory status in Mexico.

They were taken into custody and handed over to immigration officials.

In Texas, Tarrant County sheriff Dee Anderson said the Couches had prepared to be gone a while, even dyeing the teenager’s blond hair black.

“They had planned to disappear. They even had something that was almost akin to a going-away party before leaving town,” he said.

Mr Anderson said Couch and his mother apparently crossed the border in her pick-up truck and drove to Puerto Vallarta. No immediate charges were planned for others who may have known about or assisted them.

Mr Anderson said authorities have no evidence that Couch’s father, who owns a sheet metal factory in North Texas, was involved.

The sheriff has said he believes the two fled in late November, after a video surfaced that appears to show Ethan Couch at a party where people were drinking. If found to be drinking, Couch could see his probation revoked and face up to four months in jail.

Authorities began searching for him and his mother after he missed a mandatory appointment with his probation officer on December 10.

Tarrant County district attorney Sharen Wilson is to ask that Couch’s case be transferred to adult court, where he could face up to 120 days in an adult jail, followed by 10 years’ probation. If he violates that probation, he could face up to 10 years in prison per death.

Anderson said an arrest warrant was being issued for Tonya Couch on charges of hindering an apprehension, a third-degree felony that carries a sentence of two to 10 years in prison.

Published: Thursday 31st December 2015 by The News Editor

Comments (0)

Local business search