Lawyers for "affluenza teen" Ethan Couch, the wealthy Texan who disappeared after breaking his probation sentence for killing four people while driving drunk, suggested on Tuesday that the 18-year-old may have been forced to flee to Mexico, where he was captured last month with his mother after a two-week manhunt.
"We are examining the facts… to determine whether he was taken voluntarily or involuntarily to Mexico," Couch's attorney Scott Brown told reporters.
Couch and his mother Tonya, 48, were arrested in the Mexican resort town of Puerto Vallarta on December 29. He had gone missing shortly after a video emerged on social media that appeared to show him at an alcohol-fueled party, a likely violation of the probation deal that kept him out of prison for his 2013 drunk-driving case.
Couch's blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit when he lost control of his truck and fatally struck a stranded motorist and three people who had stopped to help. A psychiatrist testified that Couch, then 16, had "affluenza," meaning his rich family had spoiled him to the point that he couldn't tell right from wrong. The "affluenza" diagnosis, which is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, was widely ridiculed.
Couch and his mother were nabbed in Puerto Vallarta after they used a cellphone to order a Domino's pizza. While in Puerto Vallarta, Couch was reportedly forced to call his mother to bail him out after he came up $345 short on a $1,000 tab at a local strip joint. He reportedly used his Rolex watch as collateral for the bill, and was "extremely drunk," according to ABC News, which spoke to employees at the club.
Prosecutors in Tarrant County, Texas, contend that Couch is responsible for his own absence by fleeing to Mexico. His mother faces a third-degree felony charge, accused of helping her son flee, that could result in a 10-year prison sentence if she is convicted. If Couch is found to have violated his probation, he could be held in adult detention for about four months.
Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson has said Couch and his mother apparently planned for their departure to Mexico, going so far as to throw a going away party for themselves.
Couch's mother has already been deported back to the United States, but he is being held in a Mexican immigration detention center while he fights extradition. His attorney said Couch's Mexican lawyers are making moves to drop his fight against deportation, but a Mexican migration official said Couch's transfer to the US is not imminent.
"First, (Couch's lawyers) have to withdraw the legal challenge … and even then it would take another month," said Ricardo Vera, the top immigration official in Mexico's central Jalisco state where Couch's legal case is being handled.
Judge Timothy Menikos of Tarrant County juvenile court deferred a ruling on a move to transfer Couch's case to adult court because his parents were not adequately notified about the proceedings. Couch's parents are divorced, and his father was not present in court.
Lawyers for Couch want the proceedings in Fort Worth stopped because he is not present. A new hearing date in the case was set for February 19.
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