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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
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‘Affluenza’ Killer Ethan Couch|Transferred to Adult Court

FORT WORTH (CN) - A Texas judge on Friday transferred "affluenza" killer Ethan Couch to adult court, leaving him facing 40 years in prison if he commits any more probation violations.

State District Judge Timothy Menikos ordered the transfer Friday morning and will have Couch, 18, remain in custody until a new judge can rule on the terms of Couch's remaining eight years of probation.

Menikos, of the state's 323rd District Court, was expected to order the transfer. Had he declined, Couch's probation would end on his 19th birthday in April. Couch has been in Tarrant County custody since Menikos denied him bail on Feb. 1.

If Couch commits a parole violation as an adult, he faces up to 10 years in state prison for the death of each person he killed while driving drunk on stolen beer.

Dressed in a dark red jail jumpsuit, Couch looked down and was silent during the hearing and as six Tarrant County deputies led him back to jail.

Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson then transferred Couch to adult jail, away from other prisoners.

Couch sparked national outrage in 2013 when former state District Judge Jean Boyd sentenced him to 10 years probation and therapy for the drunk-driving deaths of four people were helping the driver of a stranded vehicle on the side of a road in south Fort Worth.

A defense psychologist testified at trial that Couch, then 16, was a product of " affluenza :" that his family believed wealth bought privilege.

Couch made headlines again last December when he and his mother, Tonya, 48, fled to Mexico after a six-second video posted on Twitter appeared to show Couch at a beer pong game. He is prohibited from drinking alcohol while on probation.

Both were arrested in Puerto Vallarta in December. Couch's mother was deported days after her arrest. She 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.

Couch initially fought deportation to Texas but dropped his case in Mexican court and was deported on Jan. 29. He faces up to 180 days in jail if the new judge in his case determines he violated parole.

Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Riley Shaw told reporters after the hearing on Friday that her office is "pleased" with the transfer.

"We have been waiting for this day for the past two years," she said.

Couch's attorney, Scott Brown of Fort Worth, said his client has been treated fairly since his return to Texas. He said the judge's ruling was "the right thing to do" under the circumstances.

"We all knew this day was coming," he said. "We have never planned to object to this."

Tonya Couch was not at the hearing, but Couch's father, Fred, was.

Several of Couch's victims and family members were in the courtroom, as well.

Sergio Molina was paralyzed when he was ejected from the back of Couch's truck in the wreck. His brother, Alex Lemus, showed reporters how he communicates with his brother now: asking him questions and waiting on blinks and leg movements as a response.

"Sergio, if you can, look over here to the crowd [of media] and in any expression that you can, show how you feel inside, you go ahead," Lemus said.

Molina, in a wheelchair, sat silent and expressionless as family members held him.

"I love you man, God loves you," Lemus said.

"Take a look," Lemus continued. "You have not been to my house yet to see every day what we have to do for my brother for him to stay like this, to stay alive, to breathe."

Lemus said Molina appeared before reporters because the family needs help.

"They've got so much money and they don't have to pay for nothing," he said. "Ten years probation is nothing. We do not care about that. Whatever, Ethan Couch, it does not matter. They need to pay, they need to fund something. We need help."

Molina's medical bills have exceeded $600,000 , according to a civil lawsuit the family filed in December 2013.

Follow @davejourno
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