When it comes to the public's reaction since 16-year-old Ethan Couch's sentence of probation and rehab was announced earlier this week, outrage is an understatement.
The teen's seemingly lenient punishment for killing four innocent people in a drunken crash six months ago has made national news, but a few are supporting the juvenile judge's decision.
Couch pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault for the Father's Day weekend crash. Few people were angrier with the probated sentence than the Tarrant County Sheriff, whose deputies saw the bloodshed and arrested Couch.
"It's frustrating to be in this line of work when you see people who've done things so very, very wrong thumb their nose at the system and walk away," said Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson.
Anderson describes the aftermath of the crash as a war zone, saying that no person should have to survive what Eric Boyles has: losing his wife, Hollie, and daughter, Shelbie.
"In a blink of an eye, standing in your front yard losing your wife and your daughter," said Anderson. "…He told me he has trouble mowing his yard because he remembers where they were."
Breanna Mitchell and youth pastor Brian Jennings were also killed, and two of Couch's friends were thrown from his pickup truck. One of those friends is now paralyzed.
Couch was driving 74 miles per hour on a dark, country road with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit.
The defense argued Couch was the product of a dysfunctional and abusive family, leaving him to raise himself and always bailing him out of trouble.
A defense psychologist coined the term "affluenza," claiming Couch suffered from too much privilege without discipline.
"Justice is supposed to be blind, and whether you have money or not, the color of your skin, your religious preference, none of that should matter, and I don't believe in this case, this played any part of it," said Anderson.
The defense asked juvenile judge Jean Boyd to send Couch to Newport Academy in Orange County, California for a year of drug and alcohol treatment, but Sheriff Anderson thinks Couch needs to be in a prison and not a spa.
"He needed to do some jail time," said Anderson. "He should've spent some time in a jail cell, no matter how little time."
Longtime criminal defense attorney Mark Daniel, who's not associated with the case, believes that if Couch had been older than 16, the sentence would have been much stiffer.
"I think had he been an adult, there would've been a substantial prison term," said Daniel.
Daniel argues juvenile criminals are given much more of a chance before being sent to a cell.
"The underlying philosophy of the juvenile justice system is not to be punitive; it's to look at rehabilitative efforts first," he said.
So, he defends Judge Boyd's controversial decision, despite the public outrage.
"Judge Boyd was there for three full long days listening to testimony and made a decision based on facts, evidence and law presented to her," said Daniel.
Judge Jean Boyd, who's been on the bench for 20 years and did not run for re-election in November, is doing her own investigation of the $500,000-a-year rehab facility Couch's father has agreed to pay for.
She could also send him to another facility, but no date has been set for the hearing where she'll detail her decision.
KDFW FOX 4
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