FORT WORTH — Ethan Couch was sentenced in December to 10 years' probation for a drunk driving crash that killed four people, sparking outrage from the public and the families of those who were killed.
That sentiment remained Wednesday after State District Judge Jean Boyd gave approval for Couch to be sent to a rehabilitation facility at an undisclosed location in Texas.
Marla Mitchell's daughter Breanna was one of the crash victims.
"No matter where he goes... no matter what game he and his family think they've beaten... the world is not ever going to take their eyes off of him," Mitchell said.
Instead of jail, Couch will live in a lock-down residential treatment facility. He is not allowed to drive, and must stay away from drugs and alcohol.
Family members said Judge Boyd told them she was not influenced by the "affluenza" defense advanced by Couch's legal team, a defense based on the notion that the teen was raised to believe money would always buy him out of trouble.
Eric Boyles lost both his wife and daughter in the crash.
"[Judge Boyd] denied it having anything to do with 'affluenza,' that basically it was all about the rehab," Boyles said.
"Let's let them know that no amount of money or prestige is ever going to grant them immunity for what they chose for their life that caused this for our lives," Mitchell added.
Couch's sentence brought intense scrutiny to the judge who imposed it. Boyd avoided further scrutiny by barring reporters from the hearing.
Boyles said he wanted the media in the courtroom.
"I was disappointed that you weren't allowed in today," he said, "because, if anything, the ability to tamp this down, keep this quiet, let this go away is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Absolutely this story has to go on."
Defense attorney Reagan Wynn said media attention tainted the case, and that some treatment facilities refused to take Couch because of that attention.
"The media circus is poison to the justice system," Wynn said after the hearing.
Tarrant County prosecutors Richard Alpert and Riley Shaw said they were working with the victims' families and talking with legislators about making changes to the juvenile court system.
Couch's sentence could not be appealed, and the attorneys said they would have preferred to have let a jury decide the case and the teen's sentence.
Couch was 16 when he barreled his Ford pickup truck into a stalled SUV at a speed between 68 and 70 miles-per-hour. Youth pastor Brian Jennings; mother and daughter Hollie and Shelby Boyles; and 24-year-old Breanna Mitchell, the driver of the stalled SUV, died in the June 15, 2013 accident on the side of a rural Burleson road that had a posted speed limit of 40 mph.
Jennings and the Boyles pulled over to help Mitchell with a flat tire. The teen's blood alcohol content at the time of the wreck was 0.24, more than three times the legal limit of 0.08. It is, however, illegal for a minor to drive under the influence of any alcohol.
Couch was convicted in December and sentenced to 10 years' probation. Judge Boyd could have sent the teen to prison for up to 20 years.
The defense argued that Couch was brought up in an environment that was bereft of punishment. Psychologist Dr. G. Dick Miller testified that Couch was given “freedoms no young person should have” and that he felt no rational link between behavior and consequences. He coined this “affluenza.”
Miller has since expressed regret that the defense used that term as a diagnosis.
“This kid had medical problems, he had social anxiety disorder, he had all sorts of things. He had depression. He found alcohol was his medicine,” Miller said from his Bedford home in December. “I think that term, ‘affluenza,’ which I was just using to describe what we used to call spoiled brats, it’s not a diagnosis.”
Couch had two prior alcohol citations before the crash. On Feb. 19, 2013, Lakeside police ticketed him for being a minor in possession of alcohol and consuming alcohol as a minor after he was found with a 12-ounce can of beer and a 1.75-liter bottle of vodka. He pled no contest to each citation.
After being sentenced to probation following the crash, Couch’s father vowed to pay $450,000 a year for his son to go to an intensive California in-patient center.
However, Boyd has not addressed a request from Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon to try Couch on two cases of intoxication assault which were not part of his original conviction.
"There has been no verdict formally entered in the two intoxication assault cases," read a statement issued by the district attorney’s office in December. "Every case deserves a verdict. The District Attorney’s Office is asking the court to incarcerate the teen on the two intoxication assault cases. Due to limitations in the Family Code, we are unable to make additional comments."
Boyd has since drawn ire for closing another juvenile hearing to the media and a spokesperson from the district attorney’s office. She argued media attention could potentially influence a jury. The 16-year-old in that case took a plea deal with prosecutors and received 26 years in prison for robbing and fatally beating 17-year-old Nicholas Anderson with a hammer.
In response to Boyd limiting access, attorneys representing North Texas media outlets, including WFAA, filed a plea in intervention to ask the judge to hold a hearing before closing proceedings to the public.
On Tuesday, Boyd formally denied the request.