In what could be viewed as sick irony, a Texas case is getting widespread attention during National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. Outrage over a sentence handed down in an intoxication manslaughter case by a Tarrant County juvenile court judge Tuesday, Dec. 10 is spreading like wildfire across the nation.
State District Judge Jean Boyd accessed a 10-year probationary sentence to a 16-year-old boy whose actions left four people dead and two others severely injured earlier this year. The teenager, Ethan Couch, was reportedly driving drunk and caused a chain reaction automobile accident in Burleson June 15.
According to a press release from the office of Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Joe Shannon. Jr., Boyd made the ruling following three days of testimony. The defendant faced a punishment of up to 20 years in prison after admitting his guilt in four cases of intoxication manslaughter and two causes of intoxication assault.
The statement from the Tarrant County district attorney's office said tests showed the teenager had a blood alcohol concentration three times higher than the legal limit.
The defense waived its right to have a jury decide punishment and instead asked the judge to decide his fate.
Days after the ruling, Texas Nationalist Movement - texnat.org - publicly called for Boyd's resignation.
"We are calling for the immediate resignation of Judge Boyd and demand that she make a public apology, not only to the families of those killed by Couch, but also to all of Texas for the embarrassment that her ruling has caused," Daniel Miller, president of the Texas Nationalist Movement said. "Through this decision, Boyd's disgraceful decision has shown a tremendous lack of judgment. While a harsh sentence will not bring back those that were lost, nor will it take away the pain felt by the families that are left behind, it will show that Texans believe in justice."
Meanwhile, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) issued a statement calling the verdict disappointing.
"MADD is concerned that Mr. Couch’s sentence sends the wrong message to others about the seriousness of drunk driving and underage drinking, which are both extremely dangerous and 100 percent preventable," the organization posted on its website - madd.org.
His defense argued he was the "victim" of his parents' wealth and overindulgence. Texas Nationalist Movement called the sentence a "slap on the wrist" and questioned how the judge could buy into the defense's notion that the 16-year-old suffered from "affluenza."
During the sentencing hearing, prosecutors Riley Shaw and Richard Alpert reportedly presented evidence showing Couch and a group of friends stole beer from a Burleson Walmart before taking it to a home owned by the defendant's family where a party was held.
Shortly before midnight, the teenager and seven partygoers piled into a pickup truck, which eventually swerved off the road in the 1500 block of Burleson-Retta Road and struck four pedestrians. Breanna Mitchell, Brian Jennings, Hollie Boyles and her daughter, Shelby Boyles, were all killed.
But the juvenile's path of destruction did not stop there, according to prosecutors. The pickup truck plowed into a parked vehicle that slid into a Volkswagon Beetle.
While all of the occupants of those two vehicles survived, two youths riding the bed of the defendant's pickup were thrown from the vehicle, sustaining serious injuries. Sergio Molina received a severe brain injury that left him unable to move or speak, and the other suffered numerous broken bones and internal injuries.
Defense attorneys Reagan Wynn and Scott Brown argued that the teen would have a better chance at rehabilitation if he were placed in an intensive treatment facility while on probation, rather than sent to prison.
In making her ruling, Boyd told the court she would not release the teenager to his parents. The judge said she place him in an intensive, long-term treatment facility and place him on probation. Violations of any of the conditions of his probation at any time in the next 10 years could land Couch behind bars.
According to MADD, more than 10,000 people are killed in drunk driving crashes annually and another 345,000 are injured.
"MADD urges parents to use this opportunity to talk with their teens about the dangers of underage drinking, since research shows that parents are the leading influence on their kids’ decisions about alcohol," the statement from the organization said.