Teen convicted in fatal DWI crash going to treatment center

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by MATT GOODMAN and TODD UNGER / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on February 5, 2014 at 7:16 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 6 at 9:43 AM

FORT WORTH — Ethan Couch, the teenager whose case sparked national outrage after he was sentenced to 10 years probation for killing four people in a drunken driving accident, returned to court for a hearing Wednesday afternoon. 

Judge Jean Boyd determined that Couch will go to a treatment facility for which his parents will foot the bill.

It was not clear if the teen will be traveling out of state to a $100,000-a-year treatment center as his legal team had requested. The length of time he will spend in rehab was also not specified.

Boyd scheduled the hearing for 3:30 p.m. and ordered the court cleared about 15 minutes before it was set to begin. It's not clear whether the media will be allowed back in. 

Couch was 16 when he barreled his Ford pickup truck into a stalled SUV at a speed between 68 and 70 miles-per-hour. Youth pastor Brian Jennings; mother and daughter Hollie and Shelby Boyles; and 24-year-old Breanna Mitchell, the driver of the stalled SUV, died in the June 15 accident along the side of a Burleson road that had a posted speed limit of 40 miles-per-hour.

Jennings and the Boyles pulled over to help Mitchell with a flat tire. The teen's blood alcohol content at the time of the wreck was .24, more than three times the legal limit of .08. It is, however, illegal for a minor to drive under the influence of any alcohol. 

Couch was convicted in December and sentenced to 10 years probation. Judge Boyd could have sent the teen to prison for up to 20 years.

The defense argued that Couch was brought up in an environment that was bereft of punishment.  Psychologist Dr. G. Dick Miller testified that Couch was given “freedoms no young person should have” and that he felt no rational link between behavior and consequences. He coined this “affluenza.” 

Miller has since expressed regret that the defense used that term as a diagnosis

“This kid had medical problems, he had social anxiety disorder, he had all sorts of things. He had depression. He found alcohol was his medicine,” Miller said from his Bedford home in December. “I think that term, ‘affluenza,’ which I was just using to describe what we used to call spoiled brats, it’s not a diagnosis.” 

Couch had two prior alcohol citations before the crash. On Feb. 19, 2013, Lakeside police ticketed him for being a minor in possession of alcohol and consuming alcohol as a minor after he was found with a 12-ounce can of beer and a 1.75-liter bottle of vodka. He pled no contest to each citation. 

After being sentenced to probation following the crash, Couch’s father vowed to pay $450,000 a year for his son to go to an intensive California in-patient center. Boyd is expected to rule where the teen must attend rehabilitation during Wednesday’s hearing.

However, Boyd has not addressed a request from Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon to try Couch on two cases of intoxication assault, which were not part of his original conviction. 

"There has been no verdict formally entered in the two intoxication assault cases," read a statement issued by the district attorney’s office in December. "Every case deserves a verdict. The District Attorney’s Office is asking the court to incarcerate the teen on the two intoxication assault cases. Due to limitations in the Family Code, we are unable to make additional comments."

Boyd has since drawn ire for closing another juvenile hearing to the media and a spokesperson from the district attorney’s office. She argued media attention could potentially influence a jury. The 16-year-old in that case took a plea deal with prosecutors and received 26 years in prison for robbing and fatally beating 17-year-old Nicholas Anderson with a hammer. 

In response to Boyd limiting access, attorneys representing North Texas media outlets, including WFAA, filed a plea in intervention to ask the judge to hold a hearing before closing proceedings to the public. 

On Tuesday, Boyd formally denied the request. 

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