If Texas State District Judge Jean thought her decision to let 16-year-old Ethan Couch off with no jail time for his role in the deaths of four individuals would fade from public consciousness she was sorely mistaken.
There has been an uproar over the ruling, which came earlier this month, just six months after the chain wreck Couch admitted he caused when he ran his Ford pickup truck off the side of the 1500 block of Burleson-Retta Road in Fort Worth, Texas.
At the source of the outrage is the reasoning behind the judge’s sentence of 10 years probation and rehabilitation at a swanky California treatment center that costs an estimated $450,000 annually. His parents will simply pick up the tab.
Dr. G. Dick Miller, a clinical psychologist based in Bedford, Texas testified at the behest of defense attorneys Reagan Wynn and Scott Brown, and alleged Couch should not face jail time because he suffered from “affluenza,” a term he created to describe a lack of understanding for consequences due to an affluent childhood and the influence parents who gave the teen everything but punishments for bad behavior.
In response to Boyd’s ruling, more than 20,000 U.S. residents have signed their names to a Change.org petition pleading with Gov. Rick Perry to remove Boyd from the bench- even though she’s not seeking reelection and will retire in 2014.
“These four lives have to be worth something,” said Terrance Greene, author of the petition on the letter from Dallas, Texas. “Basically because his family is rich the judge is saying it's okay.”
Aside from the lives of 24-year old Breanna Mitchell, Brian Jennings, 41, Shelby Boyles, 21, and her mother, Hollie Boyles, 41, the collision Couch triggered left Sergio Molina, now 16, brain damaged and paralyzed after being thrown from the bed of Couch’s truck with another teen.
According to information released by the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, Couch was throwing a party at his parent’s second home when he decided to go to a Burleson Wal-Mart to steal alcohol with friends.
After the theft, the partying continued until one of the teens present needed feminine hygiene products. At that point, Couch and seven other youths packed into the pickup truck and sped off to a store.
Moments before midnight on Jun. 15, Couch’s truck struck four pedestrians on the side of the road: the group included Mitchell, whose car was disabled, and the three individuals who pulled over to offer help.
He was doing nearly 70 miles an hour in a 40 mile-per-hour roadway, police said.
According to statements released by the district attorney’s office, up to three hours after the crash, Couch had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .24- three times more than the legal limit for adults who are permitted to drink.
“The teen admitted his guilt in four cases of intoxication manslaughter and two cases of intoxication assault,” read statements released by the office of District Attorney Joe Shannon, Jr. “He elected to have Judge Boyd assess his punishment, which ranged from probation to 20 years behind bars.”
Couch gambled- and won.
Boyd wasn’t as lenient in other decisions. In the case of an unidentified 14-year-old boy who punched, at random, Mark Gregory, who weighed just 106 pounds and just one inch over five feet. Gregory fell to the ground, hit his head on the pavement, and died.
As a result of that one punch, the teen was sentenced in March of 2012 to a juvenile prison until his 19th birthday.
To the angry public, the stark contrasts between the punishments sent a clear message about the way wealthy Americans are treated within the legal system.
“As a retired police officer and police chief in Ohio for 33 years, I have seen egregious decisions from the bench, but this decision makes all the others pale in comparison,” said one petition supporter, George Dragovich, of Harville, Ohio.
“Judge Boyd deserves to be stripped of her right to continue as a judge or even an attorney. Please take action against her.”
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