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'Affluenza' mom released from jail, must pay the cost for being hauled back to Texas

'Affluenza' mom released from jail, must pay the cost for being hauled back to Texas
Tonya Couch appears in court in Fort Worth, Texas. (Rodger Mallison / Pool Photo)

The mother of a fugitive teenager known for using an "affluenza" defense in a fatal drunken-driving wreck has been released from a Texas jail.

Tonya Couch was released on bond from the Tarrant County jail in Fort Worth shortly before 9 a.m. Tuesday. She's charged with hindering the apprehension of a felon for allegedly helping her 18-year-old son flee to Mexico.

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Her son, Ethan Couch, is fighting extradition from Mexico.

A judge on Monday lowered the mother's bond from $1 million to $75,000. She must wear an electronic ankle monitor and remain at the home of her 29-year-old son, Steven McWilliams, except for appointments with her doctor and lawyer.

Authorities believe the pair fled as Texas prosecutors investigated whether Ethan Couch violated his probation in the 2013 wreck that killed four people. During the trial, a defense witnesses said the teen was coddled into a sense of irresponsibility by his wealthy parents, a condition the expert called "affluenza."

"I want her at her son's home, and that's where I want her to stay," said State District Judge Wayne Salvant, who also ordered Couch to pay nearly $3,200 in restitution to the sheriff's office for the cost of transporting her back to Texas from Los Angeles.

The 48-year-old woman is charged with hindering the apprehension of a felon after she and her son, Ethan Couch, were caught in a Mexican resort city. Ethan, 18, killed four people in a 2013 crash and was facing allegations that he violated his probation.

Authorities say Tonya Couch took $30,000 and fled with Ethan to Mexico out of fear that her son would be put behind bars for violating his probation. The two were caught Dec. 28 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Tonya Couch was brought back to Texas last week after first being taken to Los Angeles. Ethan Couch remains in a Mexico City detention facility, where he is contesting his extradition.

Salvant said he understood prosecutors' concerns that Tonya Couch might flee again, but that the charge against her, while a third-degree felony, wasn't serious enough to merit a $1-million bond.

One of her attorneys, Stephanie Patten, said afterward that she wasn't sure whether  Couch would be able to post bond.

Ethan Couch was 16 and driving at three times the legal intoxication limit for adult drivers when he rammed a pickup truck into a crowd of people trying to help stranded motorists on the side of a North Texas road. Four people were killed in the June 2013 wreck.

A juvenile court judge gave the teen 10 years' probation, outraging prosecutors who had called for him to face detention time. The case drew widespread derision after an expert called by Ethan Couch's lawyers argued he had been coddled into a sense of irresponsibility by his wealthy parents, a condition the expert called "affluenza."

Despite all of the previous testimony about the teen's wealthy upbringing, his mother's attorneys argued she had few assets to her own name and couldn't pay the cost of a $1-million bond.

McWilliams testified Monday that his mother's bank account had been frozen by a court order and he wasn't able to access it. He also told a prosecutor upon questioning that he wouldn't have been surprised to see $100,000 from the sale of a house in the account.

Tonya Couch is separated from Fred Couch, Ethan's father, who owns a suburban Fort Worth business that does large-scale metal roofing. According to an arrest warrant, Tonya Couch is accused of telling Fred Couch that he would never see her or Ethan again before fleeing.

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