FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) - A Texan who killed four people while driving drunk as a teen, then avoided prison by blaming his wealthy upbringing, was released from jail on Monday after serving nearly two years for violating probation in the case, officials said.
Ethan Couch garnered international attention in 2013 as the “affluenza teen” when his lawyers argued his privileged childhood impaired his ability to tell right from wrong.
Now 20, he walked free from a jail in Fort Worth, where he served time after fleeing to Mexico and then being found in violation of the probation he received for the fatal crash.
Couch was silent as he left the corrections facility with an attorney by his side. A black Tesla sedan whisked him away.
“Ethan continues to be remorseful as he has since the first day of this tragic event,” attorney Scott Brown told reporters.
Couch will remain under supervision that includes a GPS ankle monitor and frequent drug and alcohol testing, officials said.
It was not clear where he would live.
His mother, Tonya Couch, 50, had been free on bond after being charged with helping her son flee to Mexico. But she was sent back to jail last week for violating her probation by failing a drug test, according to local law enforcement.
Couch’s father, who runs a sheet metal business, did not respond to requests for comment.
Tim Williams, a jail chaplain who was friends with one of the people killed by Couch, said he met Couch about once a week behind bars.
“He did develop and was able to begin to own what he did,” Williams said in a telephone interview. “I don’t want to give the impression that he has arrived at the stage of full maturity and full ownership, but I have seen progress and that can be helpful.”
Couch was 16 and had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit for an adult when he struck and killed four people in June 2013 with his pickup truck.
At his trial in juvenile court that year, a psychologist testifying on his behalf described Couch as having “affluenza,” saying it was an affliction brought on by being spoiled by his parents and it had skewed his moral compass.
Couch was sentenced to 10 years of probation for intoxication manslaughter, sparking outrage from critics who ridiculed the affluenza defense and said his family’s wealth had kept him out of jail.
When a social media video surfaced in 2015 that showed him in possible violation of his drug-and-drink-free probation, he and his mother fled for Mexico. They were later apprehended and deported.
In 2016, a county judge transferred Ethan Couch’s probation supervision to the adult system and, as a condition of the transfer, ordered him to serve 720 days in jail, 180 days for each of his four victims.
“Two years in jail for four people killed is a grave injustice to the victims and their families who have been dealt life sentences because of one person’s devastating decision to drink and drive,” Mothers Against Drunk Driving said in a statement last week.
Reporting by Marice Richter and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Gregorio
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