Published December 12, 2013
The families of four people killed by a North Texas teen who was drunk when he lost control of his pickup truck are angry over his probation-only sentence.
A juvenile court judge sentenced a 16-year-old boy on Tuesday to 10 years' probation after he confessed to intoxication manslaughter in the crash, which happened June 15 on a dark rural road near Fort Worth.
Killed were Brian Jennings, 43-year-old Burleson youth minister; Breanna Mitchell of Lillian, 24; Shelby Boyles, 21, and her 52-year-old mother, Hollie Boyles, who lived near the crash site.
Prosecutors said the teen's blood-alcohol was three times the legal limit when he caused the chain reaction crash and struck the four pedestrians, MyFoxDFW.com reported. He also had seven passengers in his Ford F-350, was speeding, according to trial testimony.
A psychologist called as an expert defense witness said the boy suffered from "affluenza." Affluenza is defined as a psychological malaise that affects young people who may come from families with money. These individuals may have the feeling of guilt, lack of motivation or a sense of isolation. The teen also grew up in a house where parents were preoccupied with arguments with each other that led to a divorce.
Prosecutors had sought the maximum 20 years in state custody for the Keller teen, but his attorneys appealed to state District Judge Jean Boyd that he needed rehabilitation instead of imprisonment, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
If the boy, who is from an affluent family, continued to be cushioned by his family's wealth and another tragedy is likely in his future, prosecutor Richard Alpert said in court.
"There can be no doubt that he will be in another courthouse one day blaming the lenient treatment he received here," he said.
However, Scott Brown, the boy's lead defense attorney, said the teen could have been freed after two years if he had drawn the 20-year sentence.
"(The judge) fashioned a sentence that could have him under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years," he told the Star-Telegram.
If the teen violates any terms of his probation, he'll be re-sentenced for up to 10 years in prison, according to MyFoxDFW.com.
"If he messes up, we'll be right there waiting for him," Alpert told the station.
Survivors of those killed in the accident drew little comfort from that assurance. Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter, said the family's wealth helped the teen avoid incarceration.
"Money always seems to keep you out of trouble," Boyles said. "Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail. If you had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different."
The defense team recommended a long probationary term at a rehabilitation center near Newport Beach, Calif., with the teen's parents picking up the tab of more than $450,000 a year for treatment.
Shaunna Jennings, the widow of the minister killed in the accident, said her family had forgiven the teen but still believed a sterner punishment was needed.
"You lived a life of privilege and entitlement, and my prayer is that it does not get you out of this," she said. "My fear is that it will get you out of this."
Marla Mitchell, whose daughter also was among those killed, said, "He's not free. None of us knows what God's plan is. He has not escaped judgment. That is in the hands of a higher power."
Gary Miller, the psychologist called as a defense expert, told the Star-Telegram that if the teen can get the help he needs, he may be able to become a contributing member of society.
"This kid has been in a system that’s sick," Miller said. "If he goes to jail, that’s just another sick system."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.