TARRANT COUNTY (CBSDFW.COM) – While Ethan Couch is a fugitive no more — he will not be returning to Texas today. The so-called “affluenza” teen was expected to be deported from Mexico, but officials in Tarrant County say that isn’t happening.
There were reports that Couch and his mother, Tonya, would leave Guadalajara, Mexico on a flight to Houston this afternoon, but Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson has confirmed that Couch’s lawyers have filed a legal writ to keep him and his mother in Mexico.
Anderson said the U.S. Marshals Service had just recently informed him about the writ to prevent extradition. The Sheriff says the move is a common ploy by people trying to prevent being returned to the United States by Marshals.
Sheriff Anderson said it could be tomorrow, a week or longer before Couch and his mother are returned to Texas, but he feels confident it will happen. “It’s just another hurdle we have to get over. Theses are people who are making every effort to avoid accountability and responsibility. It’s a pattern long established. I’m not the least bit surprised,” he said. “We’re [Tarrant County Sheriff’s] patient, we’ll be here when it’s all said and done and we’ll get him here.”
Couch’s attorneys won the delay by filing a protection order asking a judge to prevent authorities from deporting him or holding him without contact with lawyers, family members or visitors. A judge has three days to rule on the matter — essentially granting Couch a three-day delay in deportation. If the judge rules in Couch’s favor, there could be a trial process in Mexico that could last for weeks or even months.
Officials with the Marshals Service said their hands are tied and released the following statement –
“Couch and his mother cannot be deported from Mexico until legal matters are resolved. We simply do not know when Ethan and Tonya Couch will be returned to the U.S.”
Whenever the pair arrives in North Texas they will have to answer for their actions at the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office.
As for the mother and son’s venture across the border, Sheriff Anderson says the two planned to be away for some time and actually had what amounted to a going away party before driving to Mexico.
Mexican authorities confirm it was a call for pizza delivery that ultimately pinpointed exactly where Couch and his mother were hiding. The call led officials to a dilapidated neighborhood in the heart of Puerto Vallarta, where the Couch’s were staying in a $350 a month apartment.
The international manhunt for the fugitive teenager began when he skipped a meeting with his probation officer earlier this month. Couch was serving a 10 years probation sentence after he was convicted of killing four people in a drunk driving crash.
When Sheriff Anderson issued an arrest warrant for Couch he said that he thought Tonya Couch was helping her son hide. The two disappeared shortly after a cell phone video surfaced, showing what appeared to be Couch at a party where alcohol was being served.
The U.S. Marshals Service joined the manhunt on December 11, and by Christmastime the search had extended to Mexico.
It was on the evening of December 28 when authorities in the town of Puerto Vallarta found the pair. Sheriff Anderson said, “At some point we felt like if he stayed gone long enough, knowing the way they are they’d try to get back here and hopefully that would be an opportunity to take them into custody. But it didn’t last that long, nor did we think it would.”
Couch, who altered his appearance since in Texas, faces deportation back to the U.S. Since the extradition is being handled as a deportation case by the Mexican government, it is likely Ethan and Tonya Couch will first fly through Houston as they head back to North Texas. The Houston-area is a major U.S. deportation hub.
Of course, Couch is being charged for violating his probation. If his case were not transferred to an adult court the maximum penalty he’d receive for a juvenile sentence would be four-months incarceration in a juvenile facility.
For her allegedly involvement in helping her son, Tonya Couch will be charged with Hindering An Apprehension, a third-degree felony that carries a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson called it the “horns of a dilemma of Texas law,” basically two equally bad options.
Prosecutors already have a hearing scheduled to try to move Ethan Couch’s probation to adult court. But he can’t be penalized as an adult for fleeing the country, because it happened as a juvenile.
“I wish the system were different,” Wilson said. “However our system of law in Texas means that the best result in this case is going to be to get him, in our opinion, into the adult court.”
Couch would still have to serve what’s left on his probation — about 8 years worth. If he were to violate again, as an adult, Wilson said her office would go after a penalty that could keep him in prison for as long as 40 years.
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