Outrage follows probation for teen who killed four in crash

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by JIM DOUGLAS and TODD UNGER / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on December 11, 2013 at 8:07 PM

FORT WORTH — A juvenile court judge sentenced 16-year-old Ethan Couch to 10 years' probation Tuesday for the drunken driving crash that killed four people.

Judge Jean Boyd could have sentenced Couch to 20 years behind bars.

Youth pastor Brian Jennings; mother and daughter Hollie and Shelby Boyles; and 24-year-old Breanna Mitchell died in the June 15 accident.

Boyd told the teen that he is responsible for what happened, but she didn't believe he would receive the necessary therapy in jail.

Loved ones of victims left through a back door. They had spent the afternoon speaking directly to Couch about how the crash changed their lives. They wanted him to serve some jail time.

The widow of one of the victims looked at the defendant and said, "Ethan, we forgive you."

Couch swallowed hard and appeared to tear up a little bit in the courtroom upon hearing those words.

Marla Mitchell, Breanna's mother, told WFAA outside the courtroom she was "mad" about the sentence.

"He'll be feeling the hand of God, definitely," she said. "He may think he got away with something, but he hasn't gotten away with anything."

Alex Lumas, whose brother was paralyzed in the accident, expressed similar disbelief at the probation sentence.

"To me, it's not right," he said. 

Prior to sentencing, a psychologist called by the defense, Dr. G. Dick Miller, testified that Couch's life could be salvaged with one to two years' treatment and no contact with his parents.

Investigators said Couch was driving a pickup truck between 68 and 70 miles-per-hour in a 40 mph zone. The four who died were standing on the side of the road outside their vehicle. Nine others were hurt.

Miller said Couch's parents gave him "freedoms no young person should have." He called Couch a product of "affluenza," where his family felt that wealth bought privilege and there was no rational link between behavior and consequences.

He said Couch got whatever he wanted. As an example, Miller said Couch's parents gave no punishment after police ticketed the then-15-year-old when he was found in a parked pickup with a passed out, undressed 14-year-old girl.

Miller also pointed out that Couch was allowed to drive at age 13. He said the teen was emotionally flat and needed years of therapy.

At the time of the fatal wreck, Couch had a blood alcohol content of 0.24, said Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson, four times the legal limit for an adult.

It is illegal for a minor to drive with any amount of alcohol in his or her system.

Judge Boyd could have sentenced Couch to up to 20 years.

Defense attorneys asked that he be sent to a small, private home in California which offers intensive one-on-one therapy. They said Couch's father would pay the entire $450,000 price tag.

Prosecutors pointed out that the juvenile justice system also offers counseling.

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com and tunger@wfaa.com

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