'Affluenza' mother returns to Texas to face charges for fleeing

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 07, 2016 12:23 PM

By Marice Richter

FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) - The mother of a Texas teenager, derided for a defense of "affluenza" in his trial for killing four people while driving drunk, was flown on Thursday from Los Angeles to Texas, where she faces an indictment for helping her son escape to Mexico.

Tonya Couch, 48, could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted in Tarrant County on a third-degree felony charge of helping her son, Ethan, 18, flee to Mexico after he apparently violated the terms of a probation deal that kept him out of prison for killing the four in 2013.

Ethan Couch remains in a Mexican immigration detention facility as he fights deportation.

Tonya Couch had been deported from Mexico at the end of December and sent to Los Angeles where she was placed in custody. She will be held on a bond of $1 million in Tarrant County, officials said.

Live TV footage provided by broadcaster WFAA showed Tonya Couch being led off a plane after her trip from California and placed in a sport utility vehicle. Her wind-blown red curls covered her face.

Couch and her son fled Texas shortly after a video surfaced in early December showing Ethan at an alcohol-laden party, likely in violation of the probation deal reached in juvenile court after the fatal accident.

He faces about four months in Texas custody if he is found to have violated the probation deal. Tarrant County prosecutors said they are looking at additional charges that could keep him in custody longer.

During his trial, a psychologist testified on Couch's behalf that he was afflicted with "affluenza," meaning he lost the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong after being showered with his family's riches. The diagnosis is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and was widely ridiculed.

A Mexican court has granted the teenager a stay against deportation that could delay his return by weeks or months.

Ethan, who has filed paperwork to stay in Mexico, was sentenced in Tarrant County to 10 years of drink- and drug-free probation, which critics saw as leniency because of his family's wealth, which comes from a metal works business.

Tonya Couch did not formally apply to stay in Mexico.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Suzannah Gonzales; Additional reporting by Marice Richter; Editing by Alistair Bell and Bill Trott)