The “affluenza” case just keeps getting more horrible. But happily, some justice may finally be at hand.
Texas resident Ethan Couch became an internet punching bag in 2013, when he was famously let off the hook with probation after being charged with manslaughter for killing four people (and injuring ten more) while driving drunk. His attorney’s novel defense claimed that 18-year-old Couch was a “victim” of having too much wealth and privilege, and thus suffered from a condition (which the defense dubbed “affluenza”) that robbed him of good judgment, creating delusions of invincibility that led to the accident.
After that decision outraged just about everybody with a basic sense of fairness, you’d think Couch would have the good sense to lay low, count his blessings, ride out his probation, and try to earn the ridiculously good break he’d received. But evidently getting a slap on the wrist was still too much for him to bear. He went missing earlier in December of 2015, skipping an appointment with his probation officer and setting off a search that ended this week when Couch, along with his mother, were found hiding out in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Turns out the pair even threw a “going-away party,” of sorts, before going on the lam.
Does this cavalcade of bad decisions actually justify the “affluenza” diagnosis? How messed up is this kid? Well, now that we know his mother went along—literally—with the getaway plan (she’s being charged with hindering apprehension), we might have some other clues to explain the teen’s behavior.
In a news conference in Fort Worth, Texas, Tarrant County sheriff Dee Anderson said it’s been obvious for some time that Tonya Couch believes completely in her son’s innocence. “We learned through some interviews that what we suspected all along had happened, that they had planned to disappear,” said Anderson. “There’s just no chance that she will ever think he needs to be punished or held accountable.”
The teen had already been outed on Twitter by a user who posted a video that seemed to show the young man drinking at a party, evidently breaking the terms of his probation. Prosecutors had responded to that would-be evidence by recommending his case be transferred to the adult court, where if Couch were found guilty of breaking his probation, he might be sent to prison for the remainder of his probationary period—a 10-year stint.
Perhaps the renewed threat of real jail time is what sent the Couch clan over the edge and into hiding. Regardless, for many, the teen’s capture represents an opportunity to right a massive wrong. “Go talk to those four families who lost loved ones and who spent Christmas without their loved ones because he decided to drink three times the legal limit of alcohol and drive recklessly and kill four innocent people,” Sheriff Anderson said. “The details of the crime, and then the lack of justice in the sentence, outraged people in this area in a way that I haven’t ever seen people outraged.”
He continued, “I personally felt like justice was denied at the first juncture, and I had everything possible invested in this to get him back and I’m not apologizing for it. I don’t believe that the community and the public wanted anything less than us to use every available means to bring him back.”
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