'Affluenza' judge gives vastly different sentences for similar fatal DUIs
03/24/2016 5:49 pm PDT
By now everyone's probably heard of Ethan Couch, the so-called "Affluenza Teen," who was given only 10 years' probation and no jail time after driving drunk and crashing, killing four people.
In a Crime Watch Daily investigation, Jason Mattera talks to another man who was sentenced by the same judge for a similar crime, but with a very different outcome.
Two Texas teens with more than their share of troubles. Both boys were convicted of deadly drunken driving, leaving grieving families in their wake.
Both cases, brought before the same judge, headed to sentencing -- and that's where the similarity ends.
The infamous "Affluenza Teen" Ethan Couch was convicted of callously killing four people and injuring nine others near his home in Fort Worth, Texas while driving his father's company truck two years ago. He was just 16 years old. He was intoxicated at three times the legal limit.
After his conviction and sentence, he casually flipped off the justice system and headed to Mexico with his enabling mother, Tonya Couch, living it up in Puerto Vallarta.
"Our suspicion that his mother was assisting him and helping him has proven true," said Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson.
The Couch family is worth millions. Couch's psychiatrist testified in his defense that Ethan suffered from a condition called "affluenza," meaning he was too rich and too spoiled to be held accountable for his actions.
"We recognize that 16-year-old kids are different than 25-year-old adults, and the juvenile system is about rehabilitation," said Reagan Wynn, Ethan's attorney.
The wealthy Texas teen got only ten years' probation, a mere slap on the wrist for killing four.
"If this were a poor family I don't think Ethan Couch would have been sentenced to probation," said criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor Toby Shook.
His Texas case seems to be one of a kind -- but is it?
Behind prison walls in Texas is another young man who found himself in a similar situation to Ethan Couch's. Except "affluenza" wasn't an option for his defense.
Eric Miller comes from the other side of town.
"My decisions took another man's life," said Miller. "I own up to that, I accept responsibility for that. If I could go back and change it I would go back and change it."
Miller was 16 years old when he stole a truck and killed someone while driving drunk. But Miller didn't get 10 years' probation.
Instead, Miller got 20 years in prison -- from the exact same judge that let Ethan Couch off the hook and out of prison.
"We were both intoxicated and we took lives. But the extremeness of his case…" said Miller.
Miller's childhood was the opposite of Couch's to the extreme.
"I felt like I got slammed, and he got a slap on the wrist," said Miller. "I'm not trying to downplay my case at all, because what I did was wrong, but this boy that was the same age as me, from the same city, different upbringings, yes, but what we did was similar, I got slammed."
And he didn't only lack money, Miller didn't have parents either. His father left him at an early age and his mother was an alcoholic. He was raised by his elderly grandfather.
"Sometimes I get clothes, my grandfather would purchase clothes from the flea market, every now and then I get a new pair of shoes. But it was far in between," said Miller.
Miller's friends believe he had even more in common with Couch than the crimes they committed, despite their differing sentences.
"Ethan couch, he was a troubled teen. His parents were too busy making millions of dollars. Well, Eric was a troubled teen, his parents were just too busy drinking and drugging," said Sheila Willett, a friend of Miller's.
Eric Miller undoubtedly has had an unlucky life. Even the family of the young man he killed has sympathy for his situation.
"I pity him, I really do. I couldn't imagine having that on my shoulders," said Christy Andress. "I feel like he needs help, he needs something besides jail."
The man he killed was not much older than Eric Miller. Philip Andress was 19 years old when he was suddenly taken away from his brothers and sister, his parents, his girlfriend and his baby boy.
Eric Miller says he too struggles every day, knowing the never-ending pain he's caused Andress's family, and his own.
"I destroyed another man's family," said Miller. "I took a father away from his child, a husband, a son, a brother. I deserve to be incarcerated."
And for the first time, Ethan Couch could face harsher punishment as well. He's now in solitary confinement in a Texas jail awaiting trial for breaking probation and fleeing to Mexico.
His mother, Tonya Couch, is under house arrest facing felony charges for hindering the arrest of her son.
"How is he too rich to not know right from wrong?" said Miller. "It doesn't matter how much money, or whether you come from a poor background like me, or where he comes from. You've got to be a man."
While Ethan Couch may eventually do time for his crimes, it still doesn't explain all the initial sentencing discrepancies. Eric Miller did commit a felony, stealing a truck while driving drunk, which could have affected the judge's decision.
Judge Jean Boyd wouldn't return calls from Crime Watch Daily, but exclusively told the Daily Mail that she has no regrets about sentencing Ethan Couch to probation, saying she "had all the facts."
Regardless, justice is supposed to be blind. Eric Miller doesn't blame Ethan Couch for getting a lighter sentence, but does have a strong opinion about the judge that sentenced them both.
"I wish you would have been just, and not just my case, but in his," said Miller.