A Texas juvenile judge decided the fate of “affluenza” teen Ethan Couch on Friday morning by ordering the transfer the juvenile probation case into the adult court system. The change will take effect upon Couch’s 19th birthday. Until then, Couch will remain behind bars.
Tarrant County Juvenile Judge Timothy Menikos agreed to transfer Couch’s case to the adult court. This will take effect around April 11, the date when Couch turns 19. Menikos also ordered Couch, 18, to remain in the maximum security adult Lon Evans Corrections Center where he was moved by the judge on Feb. 5. He had previously been incarcerated in a juvenile detention center.
The new adult court judge will then determine the terms of Couch’s probation. Violating those terms could get the teen up to 120 days in jail. The conditions of the teen’s probation are expected to become much stricter than in the juvenile court.
Couch arrived at the courthouse at approximately 8:45 a.m., clean shaven, and wearing a red prison jumpsuit. Fox 4 Dallas reported Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson described Couch’s demeanor while waiting for Friday’s hearing as “stoic.”
Said Anderson: “He doesn’t express any emotions any one way or the other. But there have been no, in my presence, feelings of remorse or questions of guilt or feeling sorry for the people whose lives he’s ended.”
Couch’s father, Fred, attended.
— Monica Hernandez (@MHernandezWFAA) February 19, 2016
Last week, a woman who identified herself as Fred Couch’s girlfriend, accused the elder Couch of choking her, WFAA-8 (ABC) reported. In 2014, Fred Couch was accused of impersonating a police officer. Ethan Couch’s half-brother Steven McWilliams also attended the transfer hearing. On Jan. 12, “affluenza” mom Tonya Couch, 48, was remanded to McWilliams’ custody following her bail reduction from $1 million to $75,000. Local authorities believe Tonya Couch helped her son, Ethan Couch, flee to Mexico late last year.
No cameras or phones were permitted in the courtroom. Following the brief transfer hearing, Tarrant County Sheriff deputies escorted a quiet and handcuffed Couch from the courthouse.
— Brandon Todd (@BrandonToddFOX4) February 19, 2016
Couch’s attorney Scott Brown addressed reporters. “We all knew this day was going to come,” he said. Previously, Brown said he would not fight the transfer.
Before the hearing, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) President Colleen Sheehey-Church spoke to reporters outside the courthouse. She said if the case transferred, “we will urge the adult court for prison time as a condition” of his probation. In January, MADD launched an online petition #FightAffluenza with the goal to raise 30,000 signatures, now it has over 50,000.
Authorities pushed for the move to the adult court. Had Couch remained in the juvenile system, Couch would have aged out of the system on his 19th birthday. MADD, like Tarrant County officials and the families, hope Couch will face stricter probation under an adult judge, although in late December, the county D.A. Sharen Wilson told reporters that even with Couch’s case transferred, it will still be bound by the original sentence ordered by the juvenile court, limiting further actions. However, Wilson said if Couch violated probation in the adult court system, he could face up to 40 years in prison, 10 years for each person he killed in a 2013 Fort Worth area drunken driving accident.
Still, prosecutors plan to request the adult court judge sentence him to 120 days in days in prison for fleeing the country. Couch would then serve out the remainder of his 10 year probation sentence.
Local authorities believed that Couch may have violated his probation when he disappeared with his mother in December. An international manhunt found the pair in Puerta Vallarta. While Mexican authorities deported the elder Couch two days later, Ethan Couch fought deportation to the United States for about a month, before dropping his extradition battle. Mexican authorities returned him to Texas.
Greg Coontz, the attorney for the families of two of Couch’s victims, one who survived, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Thursday he hoped the outcome of Friday’s hearing helps move the families “another step toward closure.”
In 2013, a lenient juvenile judge tried then 16-year-old Couch on an “affluenza” defense that blamed his reckless behavior in the wreck that killed four and injured others on the teen’s inability to distinguish right from wrong because of an affluent upbringing where his parents coddled him. Instead of jail time, Couch received the 10 year probation plus rehab and counseling.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.