FORT WORTH, Texas – A Texas teenager who used an "affluenza" defense in a fatal drunken-driving accident has dropped an appeal against deportation from Mexico and will return to Texas to face new charges in the coming days. Attorney Fernando Benitez said Tuesday that Ethan Couch formally ratified his decision to drop the appeal on Monday. Couch is scheduled to appear at a hearing in Texas on Feb. 19 over whether his case will be transferred to the adult system.
Here's a look at what has happened so far and what could happen in coming days or weeks:
FLIGHT TO MEXICO
Couch, 18, had been fighting deportation since he and his mother, Tonya Couch, were found in late December in the Pacific Coast resort city of Puerto Vallarta. Texas officials say the pair fled to Mexico after a video surfaced that appeared to show Ethan Couch at a party where people were drinking. He was banned from drinking under the terms of his probation for a drunken-driving wreck that killed four. A defense witness had argued at that time that Couch had been coddled by his wealthy parents, a condition the expert called "affluenza."
A detention warrant was issued for Ethan Couch in December after he missed a meeting with his probation officer.
When they were arrested, Ethan Couch appeared to have tried to disguise himself by dying his blond hair black and his beard brown, according to investigators. Tonya Couch was quickly deported to Los Angeles, and, days later, sent back to Texas, where she is charged with hindering an apprehension, a third-degree felony that carries a sentence of two to 10 years in prison.
RETURN TO U.S.
Mexican immigration officials, the U.S. Marshals, or both will transfer Ethan Couch to Texas from the immigration detention center in Mexico City where he has been held since late December. Though his flight route is unclear, U.S. Marshals spokesman Trent Touchstone said Couch will likely fly direct into Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
Because Couch dropped his deportation fight, transferring him to the U.S. "will be a lot easier and a lot quicker," Touchstone said.
The sheriff's office will take custody upon his return to Texas.
Couch will be held in a juvenile detention center until a juvenile judge holds a hearing to decide whether to continue to hold him there, book him in an adult jail or let him go, said Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson.
A separate hearing will be held next month to decide whether to transfer his case to adult court.
Ethan Couch was driving drunk and speeding near Fort Worth in June 2013 when he crashed into a disabled SUV, killing four people and injuring several others, including passengers in his pickup truck. He was 16 at the time. He pleaded guilty in juvenile court to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury. He was sentenced to 10 years' probation.
During the sentencing phase of his trial, a defense expert argued that he had been coddled into a sense of irresponsibility. "Affluenza" is not recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and its invocation drew ridicule.
Rather than seeking a revocation of Couch's probation, Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson has asked a judge to transfer his case to adult court.
If that takes place, Couch could face up to 120 days in an adult jail, followed by 10 years' probation. If he violates probation again, he could face up to 10 years in prison per death, Wilson said.
If the judge declines to transfer Couch to adult court, he could be held in a juvenile facility until his sentence expires when he turns 19 next April.
"We are not seeking to request violation of his juvenile parole, as the maximum it could offer at this point would be to hold him in a juvenile facility until his nineteenth birthday," said Tarrant County district attorney spokeswoman Samantha Jordan.