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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – The ‘affluenza’ teen Ethan Couch is in North Texas on Friday after spending nearly two months on the run and in custody in Mexico. Wearing a tan prison uniform, he made a morning court appearance at the Lynn W. Ross Juvenile Detention Center in Tarrant County.
At the hearing, Judge Tim Menikos decided Couch should remain in juvenile detention, at least for the time being. His next court appearance is set for February 19. That is when a judge will determine if Couch’s case should be moved to adult court for the remainder of his probation. The adult probation system would bring tighter supervision for the teenager.
In a statement, Couch’s lawyers said that they are anticipating their client’s case being moved to adult court, since he is now 18 years old and has his 19th birthday in April.
Authorities in Tarrant County want Couch treated as an adult. “We are seeking to have him transferred. We are not seeking to do anything to him while he’s under juvenile control, because the extent of what would happen to him, if we did that, would be too minimal,” said prosecutor Richard Halpert after the Friday hearing. “Our goal is to put him into the adult system and wait for him to do what I believe he will do, at which time we will seek to revoke him.”
After the morning hearing, Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson issued the following statement –
“Ethan Couch is locked up. Rest assured that in the days and months ahead we will do everything we can under the law to hold him accountable for what he’s done, realizing that we will always be limited by the juvenile judge’s sentence of a 10 year probation in 2014.
We ask when you think about this case going forward, don’t remember Ethan Couch and the chances he’s squandered. Don’t feed his ego with notoriety. Remember Hollie and Shelby Boyles, Brian Jennings and Breanna Mitchell, and the lives they’ll never have. Remember Sergio Molina, Lucas McConnell, Isaiah McLaughlin and Soloman Mohmand, who continue to deal every day with their injuries from the crash. Remember all of their families.
Behind every incident are the victims, and this should be their story.”
Should the change in supervision happen later this month, Couch’s attorney, Scott Brown, said, “We are optimistic that Ethan can complete and successfully complete his probation once he’s transferred to adult court.”
Before the Friday hearing ended, Menikos added that he may still move Couch to an adult jail prior to his February court date. The judge plans to make that final decision “soon.”
Couch arrived at DFW International Airport on Thursday, where Tarrant County sheriff’s deputies greeted him and drove him to the detention center. Earlier this week, Couch dropped his Mexican deportation appeal. He had been there in the custody of immigration officials for the last 28 days, after skipping out on his probation with help from his mother.
By law, Couch was required to see a judge within 24 hours of his return.
A large crowd was in the courtroom on Friday morning. In addition to the attorneys involved in this case, the family members of some of the victims who died in Couch’s 2013 drunk driving crash were also in attendance, as was the president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The group has been pushing for Couch to be treated like an adult.
Just prior to Friday’s hearing, MADD president Colleen Sheehey-Church spoke outside of the detention center. “Ethan Couch has done nothing but show a blatant disregard for the law since day one,” she stated.
Attorney Brown denied that after the Friday morning hearing. “Of course Ethan is sorry,” he said. “He understands that he has caused a lot of grief to a lot of people, and I am hopeful that he has changed.”
Couch was 16 years old when that fatal crash took place. He was intoxicated and speeding near Fort Worth when he ran into a disabled SUV. Four people died and others were injured. But the teen was only sentenced to probation.
Defense lawyers for Couch successfully argued that he was coddled by wealthy parents and lacked a sense of responsibility for his actions. An expert coined the term ‘affluenza’ for this unofficial condition, but the case and ruling were widely ridiculed by the community.
“I know how the families feel,” said Sheehey-Church. “My son was killed by a drunk driver, and what we see and what we feel is anger toward this case. I’d also be able to tell you that — as a victim — our sentences are forever. We will never see our loved ones back again.”
Video surfaced online last year that appeared to show Couch in violation of his probation. While prosecutors investigated that video, law enforcement officials believe that Couch and his mother fled to Mexico. After an FBI manhunt, they were located in Puerto Vallarta. The teen’s hair had been dyed jet black, as opposed to his normal blonde look.
Sheriff Dee Anderson said that Couch’s return marks the end of almost two months of hard work. “Our staff worked tirelessly, around the clock, to make sure this day came,” the sheriff said on Thursday. “I said many times, I would finally breathe a sigh of relief when they were both locked up in Tarrant County.”
Couch’s mother, Tonya, returned to North Texas more than two weeks ago. She posted a $75,000 bond, was fitted with a GPS monitor and is now under house arrest. She has been charged with hindering the apprehension of a felon.
“Who’s failing here? His family is failing here. Ethan is failing,” Sheehey-Church said just after the Friday hearing. “He had an opportunity. He was given a dang gift. He was given a slap on the wrist — which happens way too much in the juvenile system and the adult system. We would prefer to give this man prison instead of presents for his 19th birthday.”