March 20, 2018 / 10:50 PM / a month ago

'Affluenza' Texan, who killed four while driving drunk, to be freed from jail

FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) - The so-called “affluenza” Texan is due to be released from jail on April 2 after serving nearly two years for killing four people while driving drunk, the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Ethan Couch, the so-called "affluenza" teen, is brought into court for his adult court hearing at Tim Curry Justice Center in Fort Worth, Texas April 13, 2016. Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner/Pool via REUTERS

Ethan Couch is scheduled to be released nine days before his 21st birthday and will remain under probation supervision after the release, said David McClelland, a spokesman for the office.

Couch was 16 and had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit of an adult when he struck and killed four people in June 2013.

At his trial in juvenile court that year, a psychologist testifying on his behalf described Couch as suffering from “affluenza.” The psychologist said it was an affliction coming from being spoiled by his parents that prevented him from telling right from wrong.

Couch was sentenced to 10 years of probation, which sparked outrage from critics who ridiculed the affluenza defense and said his family’s wealth had helped keep him out of jail.

But in late 2015, when a social media video surfaced that showed him in possible violation of his drug-and-drink-free probation, he and his mother Tonya Couch fled the United States for Mexico, where the two were later apprehended and deported.

A Tarrant County judge in 2016 then transferred Ethan Couch’s probation supervision to the adult system. As a condition of the adult probation, the judge ordered him to serve 720 days in jail, 180 days for each of the four crash fatalities.

The sentence was seen as the maximum possible given the various legal mechanisms of a case that spanned the juvenile and adult systems, legal officials said.

Lawyers for Couch have long argued for his release, saying the punishment was excessive and the judge who sentenced him had no authority to place him behind bars.

Tonya Couch was charged with hindering the apprehension of a fugitive and money laundering. She has been free on bond for more than two years awaiting trial.

Reporting by Marice Richter in Fort Worth and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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