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‘Affluenza’ fugitive’s mom jailed in LA on $1 million bond as son stays in Mexico City cell

AP

The mother of a fugitive Texas teen known for using an “affluenza” defense in a fatal drunken-driving accident will likely remain jailed for several days in Los Angeles after being deported from Mexico, investigators said Thursday.

Tonya Couch and her 18-year-old son, Ethan, were taken into custody this week in Mexico, where authorities believe the pair fled in November as Texas prosecutors investigated whether he had violated his probation.

Ethan Couch was being held at a detention facility in Mexico City after winning a court reprieve that could lead to a weeks- or even months-long legal process in Mexico, a Mexican immigration official told The Associated Press on Thursday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he or she was not authorized to be quoted by name.

But his mother was deported and flown to Los Angeles, where she was escorted through the city’s sprawling LAX airport in handcuffs by U.S. marshals early Thursday. She will remain jailed in Los Angeles until officers can take her to Texas.

That likely won’t happen until at least next week. Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Jane Robison said Thursday that no extradition hearing was planned ahead of the New Year’s holiday.

In Texas, prosecutors charged Tonya Couch with hindering apprehension of a felon. Her bond there was set at $1 million, Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Samantha Jordan said Thursday.

Her attorneys released a statement saying she had done nothing illegal and wanted to get back to Texas as soon as possible.

“While the public may not like what she did, may not agree with what she did, or may have strong feelings against what she did, make no mistake — Tonya did not violate any law of the State of Texas and she is eager to have her day in court,” lawyers Stephanie K. Patten and Steve Gordon said in the statement.

There was no specific reason Couch was flown to Los Angeles instead of Texas, other than authorities simply choose the most “rapid, secure and efficient means to return” fugitives to the U.S., said Richard Taylor, acting U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Texas.

Ethan Couch was driving drunk and speeding near Fort Worth in June 2013 when he crashed into a disabled SUV, killing four people and injuring several others, including passengers in his pickup truck. He was sentenced to probation.

During the sentencing phase of his trial, a defense expert argued that his wealthy parents coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility — a condition the expert termed “affluenza.” The condition is not recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and its invocation during the legal proceedings drew ridicule.

Texas prosecutors believe the mother and son fled the state in late November, after a video surfaced that appears to show Ethan Couch at a party where people were drinking. He then missed a mandatory Dec. 10 appointment with his probation officer.

The mother and son were taken into custody Monday in Mexico, after authorities said a phone call for a pizza delivery led to their capture in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta. Local police said the pair stayed at a condominium complex for a few days before moving to an apartment.

The appeal filed in Mexico on behalf of Ethan Couch argues that deportation would violate his rights. Richard Hunter, chief deputy for the U.S. Marshals Service in South Texas, said Wednesday that the legal maneuver basically takes the deportation decision out of an immigration agent’s hands and asks a higher authority to make it.

Such cases can often take up to several months, depending on the priorities of the local courts, he said.

“It also depends on the fact the Couches have legal counsel,” Hunter said. “And it seems to me, if they wanted to, they could pay them as much money as they want to drag this thing out,” Hunter said. “We’re hopeful that’s not the case.”