By Marice Richter
FORT WORTH, Texas (Reuters) – A Texan who was dubbed the “affluenza teen” was released from jail on Monday after serving nearly two years for killing four people while driving drunk and later fleeing to Mexico with his mother, law enforcement officials said.
The case made headlines worldwide after lawyers for Ethan Couch, now 20, argued that his wealthy upbringing impaired his ability to tell right from wrong. He has moved from the Tarrant County Jail and was being processed at a probation office, jail officials said.
Couch was released a few days before his 21st birthday and will remain under strict probation supervision, the county sheriff’s office has said.
It was not clear where Couch will go upon his release. His mother is in jail for violating the terms of her bond after being charged with helping her son flee to Mexico.
“Ethan does not wish to draw attention to himself and requests privacy so he may focus on successfully completing his community supervision and going forward as a law-abiding citizen,” his lawyers, Scott Brown and Reagan Wynn said in a statement.
Couch’s father, who runs a sheet metal business, did not respond to requests for comment.
Couch was 16 and had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit for an adult when he struck and killed four people in June 2013 with his pickup truck.
At his trial in juvenile court that year, a psychologist testifying on his behalf described Couch as suffering from “affluenza.” The psychologist said it was an affliction brought on by being spoiled by his parents and it had skewed his moral compass.
Couch was sentenced to 10 years of probation for intoxication manslaughter, sparking outrage from critics who ridiculed the affluenza defense and said his family’s wealth had kept him out of jail.
But in late 2015, when a social media video surfaced that showed him in possible violation of his drug-and-drink-free probation, he and his mother, Tonya Couch, fled for Mexico, where the two were later apprehended and deported.
In 2016, a Tarrant County judge transferred Ethan Couch’s probation supervision to the adult system, and as a condition of the transfer, ordered him to serve 720 days in jail, 180 days for each of his four victims.
That sentence was seen as the maximum possible, given the various legal mechanisms of a case that spanned the juvenile and adult systems, legal officials said.
(Reporting by Marice Richter and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, David Gregorio and Susan Thomas)