A Texas district judge ordered ‘affluenza’ Teen Ethan Couch to serve almost two years in jail when Couch appeared in adult court for the first time Wednesday morning, April 13.
District Judge Wayne Salvant stated Couch will be jailed on four consecutive terms, 180 days on each of the four counts of intoxication manslaughter for the four killed when Couch drove drunk in 2013, an amount of time days shy of a two year sentence. Couch was 16-years-old at the time of the drunken driving wreck.
Salvant said he wanted time to review recommendations from the prosecution and Couch’s defense attorneys on the longer jail term he ordered for Couch. The judge also stated he would allow the defense and the prosecution a chance to argue their cases in the coming weeks. “Nothing I do is in stone,” said Salvant, who indicated he “might reconsider.”
Couch turned 19-years-old Monday and his case transferred automatically from the juvenile system to the adult court. The judge said, for now, Couch will remain in the adult maximum-security Lon Evans Correctional Center in Fort Worth where he has been held in a single cell since early February.
The teen entered the courtroom wearing a red Tarrant County jail jumpsuit. He was bearded, his red hair growing out at its roots. Salvant asked Couch repeatedly if he understood the new conditions under the adult system. The judge gave the terms of Couch’s adult probation “consistent” with the terms of his juvenile probation that will continue once Couch completes his jail time.
Couch cannot drink alcohol, take drugs or drive while on probation. He must also seek employment and show proof of employment to his probation officer. Couch will also report to a community supervision officer, submit to house visits, and not engage in criminal activity.
On Tuesday, the judge placed a gag order on Couch’s case. In the courtroom, Salvant stated the gag order will remain in effect. He did not want defense or prosecution attorneys to give out opinions or do interviews about the case since Couch’s mother, Tonya, has a case “in this court” which Salvant called “entwined” with her son’s. Salvant noted that people on trial in this court have a right to be presumed innocent until a jury decides otherwise. Although Couch is not on trial, Salvant explained Couch’s mother’s case “may very well lead to an indictment.”
Couch’s attorneys also asked that Couch’s case documents be re-sealed. They became available when the court transferred to the adult system.
Attending the hearing were Couch’s father, Fred, and half-brother Steven McWilliams. Relatives of Ethan Couch’s victims also filled the courtroom.
When Couch turned 19, he aged out of the juvenile system. He spent his birthday alone in jail. “No party, no cake, no ice cream,” said Terry Grisham, spokesman for the Tarrant County Sheriff’s office.
Authorities moved Couch to the Lon Evans Correctional Center in early February. Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson expressed concerns that someone else confined in the juvenile jail system might have access to and try to hurt Couch, who was considered a “high profile” inmate. Until Monday, Couch remained under the authority of the juvenile court.
A lenient juvenile court Judge Jean Boyd, now retired, tried Couch on the “affluenza” defense which blamed Couch’s reckless behavior in 2013 on an inability to distinguish right from wrong because of over-indulgent parents and an affluent upbringing. Instead of jail time, he received a 10 year probation sentence, residential rehab and counseling.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported the costs of those services Couch received for more than a year totaled around $200,000, of which the taxpayer footed most of the bill. Court documents revealed Couch’s parents were “financially unable to pay” for the full amount of their son’s treatment.
In December, authorities believed the “affluenza’ teen violated the terms of his juvenile probation when a video surfaced that appeared to show him at a party where alcohol was served. Couch and his mother, Tonya, then went missing, which prompted an international manhunt. The pair were found and detained in Mexico.
Salvant also presides over Tonya Couch’s case. She stands accused of fleeing to Mexico with her son after the video surfaced on social media. In January, the judge released her to McWilliams custody while waits to learn if she will be indicted for helping the “affluenza” teen flee to Mexico. Salvant also placed a gag order on her case. Although Mexican officials deported the elder Couch to U.S. authorities, Ethan Couch fought extradition until late January when he dropped his fight and returned to Texas to face his consequences.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.