FORT WORTH, Texas — The Texas teenager who used an "affluenza" defense in a fatal drunken-driving wreck won't be moved to an adult jail as he awaits a court hearing to determine whether his case will be transferred to the adult system, where he could face time behind bars, a judge ruled Friday.
Ethan Couch, 18, was booked into a juvenile detention facility in Fort Worth after he was deported from Mexico on Thursday. Authorities believe he and his mother fled the U.S. as Texas prosecutors investigated whether he violated his probation in the 2013 wreck, which killed four people.
Prosecutors and the local sheriff wanted Couch moved to an adult jail. But during a brief hearing Friday, Judge Timothy Menikos sided with Couch's attorneys. Couch will stay at the juvenile center until a Feb. 19 hearing.
Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said her office would do everything it could to hold Couch accountable, but noted she was limited because Couch was sentenced only to 10 years' probation in the juvenile case in 2013. The sentence came after a defense expert testified that Couch had been coddled into a sense of irresponsibility by his wealthy parents and called the condition "affluenza."
Wilson urged the public not to "feed his ego with notoriety," but to instead focus on the victims of the wreck.
"Behind every incident are the victims, and this should be their story," Wilson said in a statement Friday.
Among them was Sergio Molina, who was riding in the bed of Couch's truck. Molina survived but severely injured: He is paralyzed and can communicate only by blinking his eyes.
His brother, Alex Lemus, was at Friday's hearing and said Molina will attend Couch's hearing in February.
"It's very hard to deal with all the changes to Sergio, being in the state that he's in," Lemus said. "Yet it's frustrating because we have to deal with the understanding (that) if my brother was the one driving the vehicle with all these victims, my mother really believes he would have gotten the death penalty in Texas."
Terms of Couch's probation barred him from drinking or leaving Tarrant County. Couch was 16 at the time of the fatal accident, so the case is being handled for now in juvenile court.
In December, Couch and his mother disappeared after an online video appeared to show Couch at a party where people were drinking. They were apprehended in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta on Dec. 28, after a call for pizza delivery tipped off authorities to their whereabouts.
Couch initially fought deportation, but he dropped the fight this week. His mother, Tonya Couch, was deported last month and is charged in Texas with hindering the apprehension of a felon. She was released on bond this month after being fitted with an electronic ankle GPS monitor.
If the case is moved to adult court, the judge could order Couch to spend up to 120 days in jail as part of an adult sentence, and then finish the remainder of his 10-year probation, according to District Attorney spokeswoman Samantha Jordan. If he violates his probation during that time, he could get up to 10 years in prison for each of the four people killed in the drunken-driving wreck.
If his case remains in juvenile court, he could be held in a juvenile detention center for violating his probation until he turns 19 in April, at which point he would become eligible for parole.