FORT WORTH (CN) – “Affluenza” mom Tonya Couch posted bail Monday after a reduction from $1 million to $75,000 as she faces a felony charge of helping her son flee to Mexico.
Couch, 48, was extradited to Tarrant County last week from California and faces up to 10 years in state prison if convicted of a third-degree felony count of hindering apprehension.
Couch and her son, Ethan, 18, were caught by Mexican authorities in December in Puerto Vallarta after spending two weeks on the run .
She was quickly deported. Ethan remains in an immigration facility in Mexico City. His deportation and extradition fight could delay his return for months.
Ethan killed four people in 2013 while driving drunk on stolen beer in south Fort Worth. He was publicly scorned after defense psychologist G. Dick Miller testified at trial that the teenager was a product of “affluenza:” that his family felt their wealth bought privilege and that there was no rational link between behavior and consequences. Miller said Ethan’s parents gave him “freedoms no young person should have.”
Ethan was sentenced in 2013 to 10 years of probation and therapy. He vanished in December after failing to check in with a probation officer. He fled after a Twitter user posted a video that appears to show him playing beer pong. He is prohibited from drinking while on probation.
Tarrant County officials say the Couches withdrew $30,000 in cash and held a “going away” party before fleeing.
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson tweeted Monday evening that “[b]arring any unseen delays[,] she will be released tomorrow morning after getting monitor.”
Couch’s attorney, Stephanie K. Patten in Fort Worth, asked for a bond reduction to $15,000 on Monday, saying the $1 million bond was excessive for the charge and that Couch had voluntarily waived extradition to return to Texas.
State District Judge Wayne Salvant reduced bond after hearing testimony from Couch’s other son, James McWilliams, 29, of Fort Worth, that his mother is broke and unable to make bail.
McWilliams – Ethan’s half-brother – offered to pay her legal fees and said she does not have any assets other than $100,000 in a frozen bank account. He testified that Couch’s ex-husband, Fred Couch, has refused to support her financially any more.
Salvant imposed several conditions to her bail, including around-the-clock confinement at McWilliams’ home and wearing an electronic monitor on her ankle. She must comply with drug tests, not use alcohol or drugs and not use any firearms, Salvant ordered. He also issued a gag order that prevents the attorneys from speaking about the case.
McWilliams said he was not aware that his half-brother was drinking and had no knowledge of the flight to Mexico.
Urging people to “fight affluenza,” Mothers Against Drunk Driving asked supporters Monday to sign an online petition to urge Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson to move Ethan’s case from juvenile to adult court before a Jan. 19 hearing.
“Couch is no child. His actions are not that of a child,” MADD said in a statement. “The nation has watched with anger and disdain as Couch continues to show blatant disregard for the law. The families impacted will never have their loved ones back. Couch must be treated like the adult he is.”
Wilson said in December that Couch will face at most four months in a juvenile facility, until his 19th birthday, because his case is still in juvenile court.
“That probation can be revoked – it is an anomaly of Texas law that if we revoke his juvenile sentence he would be held at a juvenile facility until his 19th birthday, which is April 11, 2016,” Wilson said. “His maximum sentence is four months in confinement. That, in my opinion, is not a sufficient punishment for the taking of four lives.”
Only if Ethan violates probation again in the adult system will he face more jail time – 10 years for each of his four intoxication manslaughter convictions, Wilson said.
“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.”
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