No jail time for Texas teen who drove drunk, killed 4

Posted on: 3:07 pm, December 12, 2013, by , updated on: 03:12pm, December 12, 2013

(CNN) — To the families of the victims, Ethan Couch was a killer on the road, a drunken teenage driver who caused a crash that left four people dead.

To the defense, the youth is himself a victim — of “affluenza,” according to one psychologist — the product of wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for the boy.

To a judge, who sentenced Couch to 10 years’ probation but no jail time, he’s a defendant in need of treatment.

The decision disappointed prosecutors and stunned victims’ family members, who say they feel that Couch got off too easy. Prosecutors had asked for the maximum of 20 years behind bars.

“Let’s face it. … There needs to be some justice here,” Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter, told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360″ on Wednesday night.

“For 25 weeks, I’ve been going through a healing process. And so when the verdict came out, I mean, my immediate reaction is — I’m back to week 1. We have accomplished nothing here. My healing process is out the window,” he said.

Lawyers for Couch, 16, had argued that the teen’s parents should share part of the blame for the crash because they never set limits for the boy and gave him everything he wanted.

According to CNN affiliate WFAA, a psychologist called by the defense described Couch as a product of “affluenza.”

He reportedly testified that the teen’s family felt wealth bought privilege, and that Couch’s life could be turned around with one to two years of treatment and no contact with his parents.

Couch was sentenced by a juvenile court judge Tuesday. If he violates the terms of his probation, he could face up to 10 years of incarceration, according to a statement from the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office.

Judge Jean Boyd told the court she would not release Couch to his parents, but would work to find the teen a long-term treatment facility.

“There are absolutely no consequences for what occurred that day,” said Boyles. “The primary message has to absolutely be that money and privilege can’t buy justice in this country.”

His wife, Hollie Boyles, and daughter, Shelby, left their home to help Breanna Mitchell, whose SUV had broken down. Brian Jennings, a youth pastor, was driving past and also stopped to help.

All four were killed when the teen’s pickup plowed into the pedestrians on a road in Burleson, south of Fort Worth. Couch’s vehicle also struck a parked car, which then slid into another vehicle headed in the opposite direction.

Two people riding in the bed of the teen’s pickup were tossed in the crash and severely injured.

One is no longer able to move or talk because of a brain injury, while the other suffered internal injuries and broken bones.

“There is nothing the judge could have done to lessen the suffering for any of those families,” said defense attorney Scott Brown, CNN affiliate KTVT reported.

“(The judge) fashioned a sentence that is going to keep Ethan under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years,” he said. “And if Ethan doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do, if he has one misstep at all, then this judge, or an adult judge when he’s transferred, can then incarcerate him.”

In addition, the Couch family faces five civil lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages for the deadly incident.

Earlier on the night of the accident, June 15, Couch and some friends had stolen beer from a local Walmart. Three hours after the crash, tests showed he had a blood alcohol content of 0.24, three times the legal limit, according to the district attorney’s office.

“We are disappointed by the punishment assessed but have no power under the law to change or overturn it,” said Assistant District Attorney Richard Alpert. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and we regret that this outcome has added to the pain and suffering they have endured.”

It is very rare, but not impossible, for prosecutors to challenge the sentence on the ground that it was too lenient, CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin said.

“To give him a pass this time given the egregious nature of his conduct — four deaths — is just incomprehensible,” she said.

It is unfair that other young defendants without the same wealth could end up in jail for a lot less, said Hostin, of CNN’s “New Day” morning show.

“I think in terms of policy, this really flies in the face of our criminal justice system,” she said. “There have to be consequences to actions, and that is what our system is about, even for juveniles.”

CNN’s Monte Plott and Vivian Kuo contributed to this report.

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10 comments

  • Average Joe says:

    It’s not what you know, not even who you know…Who you can buy!!!!!!!!!! I feel so bad for the families of the victims. Even if he is squeaky clean for the next 10 years, he will be out there committing crimes…Why wouldn’t he? He’s already got away with murder-4 to be exact…Terrible message, but this is the system we’re supposed to be able to trust…The same system that exonerated Mr. Zimmerman…Good job Justice!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Paul R. Jones says:

    I guess we will now have a rich spoiled kid defense. When will the insanity end?

  • Cinamon says:

    Terrible tragedy for everyone involved. My prayers go out to these families. But It’s funny how few comments u get when you can’t blame Obama!!

  • gail says:

    Wow we live in a society where Parents are in denial what has he learned NOTHING

  • Mom trying to raise her kids responsibly says:

    There is no common sense or decency anymore, that kid learned absolutely nothing. There are consequences for ALL you do in life whether good or bad, what did he learn oh, he doesn’t get to see Mommy and Daddy for 2 years, how much was he seeing them before if he stole from a Wal-mart and then drove drunk, were they paying attn at all? God love the families of the injured and deceased. What kind of American justice system allows this? What kind of precedence does this set? Oh, I’m spoiled I can’t be held responsible for my actions, absolutely ridiculous.

  • Sandybritches@yahoo.com says:

    Would think the judge would of stepped up and given him
    boot camp at least. So he did as the parnet did, kick the can.

  • Hello says:

    For the grieving man, he can’t link his healing with the justice system. He also has to realize there’s a difference between justice and revenge. Nothing will help you heal except for time and your own strength. You can’t put your healing into a verdict you hope to hear. he DID get consequences. Is probation not a consequence? IT is. But it’s not as major of one you’d like him to have. I know it feels fair since you are going through something MAJOR because of what HE did. But you can’t invest yourself into that

  • Brian Benfield says:

    Ok so let me see if I got this right. …. this kid receives basically zero punishment or consequences for killing four people based on the fact that he was raised to believe he can do what he wants with no consequences? Ummmmmm…… yeah i can see where that makes perfect sense. Instead of teaching him there are consequences for killing four people the judge basically did the same thing his parents have done leading up to this. … nothing. So the punishment for killing four people when you’re rich is that you can continue to get away with whatever you want simply because you’re rich. Nice. I remember a case of an illegal immigrant that got drunk and killed one person. … just one. …. And he got something like 15 years and DEPORTATION! . ….

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