(Reuters/Fiscalia General del Estado de Jalisco)

Still coddling the "affluenza teen": Ethan Couch's team confuses human rights with comfort

His mother Tonya is back in the States, but Couch remains in Mexico with a stay of deportation


Mary Elizabeth Williams
January 7, 2016 1:45AM (UTC)

Okay, sure, let's talk about poor young Ethan Couch's human rights. That sounds like a great strategy for a legal team to take. And it might yet hold up in court, but wow, it's a hell of a thing to ask the public to give a damn about.

Couch, you may recall, earned himself his own Wikipedia entry after killing four people and seriously injuring two others in a vehicular accident in 2013. After the crash, he tested at three times over the legal limit for alcohol and positive for Valium. He was 16 at the time. His defense team then cleverly brought in a psychologist who argued that he was a victim of "affluenza," a product of a wealthy family that had "strongly enabled" a history of irresponsible acts and led him to feel "there was no rational link between behavior and consequences." Judge Jean Boyd seemed to agree, and Couch was sentenced to rehab and probation.

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And Couch did indeed put in a stint in rehab — one that based on current evidence one might safely wager did not stick. In December, a video emerged of a person who appeared to be Couch at a party where drinking was involved. Soon after, Texas authorities announced that a warrant had been issued for the young man, now 18, for going AWOL and violating his parole. Several days later, Couch — along with his mama Tonya — were apprehended in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Sources told ABC News Tuesday that Couch was spotted last month at a local strip club, where he appeared "extremely drunk." 

Tonya Couch is now back in the U.S. She was in California court on Tuesday and awaits transport back to Texas. She currently faces a felony charge of hindering apprehension of a felon and up to ten years in prison. Her attorneys told ABC News this week that she has been staying "in a small room with a steel bed and no television" and has had only one shower since she taken into custody. That sounds hard. Probably not as hard being unable to speak or move, like Sergio Molina — the teen who was riding in the back of Couch's truck that fateful night — now is, but tough, I'm sure. Her attorneys say, "While the public may not like what she did, may not agree with what she did, or may have strong feelings against what she did, make no mistake — Tonya did not violate any law of the State of Texas and she is eager to have her day in court."

Couch himself, meanwhile, is still in Mexico, where he has been granted a stay of deportation. And he, unlike his mom, seems less eager for a day in American court. The teen, who was sporting freshly-dyed black hair when he was found last month, has now enlisted Mexican attorney Fernando Benitez to help him out. Speaking with WFAA last week from his office in Tijuana, Benitez said that he was filing a petition suggesting that Couch's "constitutional and civil rights may have been violated." As he explained, "He hasn't committed a crime in Mexico. Why would Mexico go along with this idea of locating someone and summarily kicking them out of the country so the marshals can grab him across the border? I don't think that's okay." He added, "From the hearing, a judge has up to 90 days to issue a ruling. After that, we could appeal a decision. We're going to take this to the full extent of our capacity and have whoever needs to review it."

I guess he's your problem for the immediate future, Mexico!

And speaking with NBC News Monday, Benitez reiterated, "Maybe the Mexican authorities are going along with a plan to get him back quickly, but they're disguising an extradition as a deportation, and that's not cool. We're not gonna go along with that. Because, of course, human rights are being infringed upon." An immigration official told ABC this week that Couch "is sleeping on a cot or a bunk in a room that he shares with three or four other people," and that he "gets three meals a day and can watch television in a common room." The four people Couch ran down in June of 2013 remain dead.

It's sweet that Couch has people looking out for him — a mom who takes him on trips, a lawyer who's concerned about his quality of life. It's nice he gets to watch TV. And as long as there are people who can take care of him so well, what's it going to take to get him back to Texas?

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Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Affluenza Ethan Couch Fernando Benitez Texas Tonya Couch

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