Sentence given to teen in deadly drunk driving crash spurs backlash

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by JASON WHITELY / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on December 13, 2013 at 11:53 AM

DALLAS — The case of Ethan Couch exposes a controversial part of the justice system and raises the question of whether juveniles should go to prison when their actions result in deaths.

"The law almost assumes they can be rehabilitated," said John Cruezot, a retired state district judge. "Not in every instance, but in most instances, I think it's appropriate for a judge to start at that standpoint."

Cruezot said the criticism against Tarrant County Judge Jean Boyd over her sentencing of 16-year-old Couch is unfair.

A white teen from a wealthy family, Couch received probation for a drunk driving crash that killed four people. The teenager’s attorney successfully claimed that his client is a victim of "affluenza," or the product of wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits.

Judge Boyd ordered Couch to undergo alcohol rehabilitation and serve 10 years probation.

That sentence has created a buzz in legal circles and led to public outrage in North Texas. The case has even spurred threats aimed at those involved in the case.

But, Cruezot said the judge was following the law.

"We don't know any of the information that was given to the judge and what she had to take into consideration to come to the conclusion," Cruezot said. "And, without that, it's hard to say she made a bad decision."

But, News 8 discovered the same judge sent a 14-year-old black boy to prison in March 2012 for killing one person with a powerful punch to the ground in 2011.

The teenage suspect’s name was never made public since he was prosecuted as a juvenile.

"Just after 10 p.m. on October 6, the teen was riding in a Cadillac with two friends when he suddenly jumped out of the vehicle in the 1700 block of Vaughn Avenue and punched [Mark] Gregory, who was 5-foot-1 and weighed 106 pounds,” said the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office in a statement. "Gregory’s head struck the pavement and he died two days later."

The 14-year-old boy admitted to the crime and never expressed remorse for the murder, according to prosecutors.

Still, Gregory’s mother, Anita Lauterbach, said she remembers the judge pushing for rehabilitation, much like the Couch case.

"She wanted to send him to one of these special places in Arizona, but no one would take him," Lauterbach said. "We were horrified. We just couldn't believe it. The district attorney and I were just sitting on pins and needles. But, when nobody would take him, [it was] a sigh of relief."

Lauterbach said she's still disgusted at her experience with the judge.

"She's too easy on them," Lauterbach said. "I don't think she needs to be sitting on that bench."

The violent aspect was likely why the 14 year old wasn't accepted into a treatment program, said Jamison Monroe, founder and CEO of Newport Academy in California.

"Yes, it’s far worse consequences and a far worse outcome for sure [with Ethan Couch], but the intent was far different," he said.

Newport Academy is the rehabilitation center where Couch will eventually report.

"What a lot of people don't understand is that juvenile courts are actually created to reform, as opposed to adults criminal systems are designed to punish people," Monroe said.

Couch's parents were ordered to pay $36,000 per month for their teenage son to receive a year of treatment at the California facility. Afterwards, Monroe said, Couch will undergo another year of outpatient treatment.

Monroe said Couch’s paperwork is not final, and it's uncertain how soon he'll have to report.

Boyd is retiring next year and not running for re-election.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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