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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘Affluenza’ Killer Drops Extradition Fight

DALLAS (CN) - "Affluenza" killer Ethan Couch is dropping his fight against extradition back to Texas and may have been taken to Mexico against his will, his attorney said.

Defense attorney Scott Brown, of Fort Worth, made the comments to reporters after state District Judge Timothy A. Menikos abruptly ended a hearing Tuesday morning over the prosecution's motion to transfer Couch's probation from juvenile to adult court in Tarrant County. Prosecutors are facing intense public pressure to have Couch's case transferred to adult court before his 19th birthday in April, when the juvenile court will lose control over the case.

The judge rescheduled the hearing to Feb. 19 because Couch was not present and because his parents had not been formally notified.

Brown told reporters that Couch, 18, has been "treated fairly" by Mexican officials who are currently detaining him at an immigration facility in Mexico City. He said Couch's Mexico attorney has filed to lift an injunction preventing his extradition back to Texas.

Tarrant County and federal officials had feared the injunction would delay Couch's return for months. Prosecutors told the judge that Couch was not at the hearing because he voluntarily left Tarrant County last month.

Brown disagreed, saying the defense is "examining the facts" in order to "determine if he was taken voluntarily or involuntarily to Mexico."

Couch and his mother Tonya, 48, were arrested in Puerto Vallarta last month after being on the run for two weeks.

It is believed they fled to Mexico after a six-second video was posted on Twitter showing someone resembling Couch at a beer pong game. Couch is banned from consuming alcohol during his 10 years of probation.

Couch made headlines in 2013 when he was sentenced to probation and therapy after killing four people on the side of a south Fort Worth road while driving drunk. A defense psychologist testified at trial that Couch, then 16, was the product of "affluenza:" that his family believed wealth bought privilege and there was no rational link between behavior and consequences. Couch was deemed as having "freedoms no young person should have."

Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said last month that Couch will face at most a few months in a juvenile facility until his 19th birthday in April because his case is still in juvenile court under an "anomaly of Texas law."

"I wish the system were different," she said. "Our system of law means the best result in this cause would be - in our opinion - to get him in adult court."

Couch's mother was deported within days after her arrest and is free on $75,000 bail. She faces a third-degree felony count of hindering apprehension and up to 10 years in state prison if convicted.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has so far gathered over 60,000 signatures in support of the prosecution's motion to transfer. The group expressed frustration over the judge's delay.

"Ethan Couch is no child and he shouldn't be treated as such," MADD said in a statement after the hearing. "It's time for him to have to face consequences."

Several relatives of Couch's victims were present for Tuesday's hearing.

Alex Lemus spoke to reporters on behalf of his brother, Sergio Molina, who was left paralyzed in the crash. Lemus mentioned a 2013 settlement with Couch's family, but said it is "not nearly enough" to meet his brother's crushing medical bills.

"Sergio has been in a coma or vegetative state since the collision," Molina's September 2013 complaint stated. "Sergio has already had to undergo several surgeries to his brain and skull and may have to undergo additional brain surgeries in the future. He has also developed illnesses and infections and has been injured while he has been hospitalized."

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