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AT THIS HOUR WITH BERMAN AND MICHAELA
Texas Officials To Speak On Capture Of Teen Fugitive And His Mother; So-Called "Affluenza" Teen And His Mom Arrested in Mexico On The Run. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired December 29, 2015 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:00:05] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: They said, we will say more in the coming days but for now please play Motorhead loud, play "Hawkwind" loud, play Lemmy's music loud. He was 70 years old.
Thank you so much for joining me today. I'm poppy Harlow.
AT THIS HOUR with Berman and Baldwin begins now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE ANNOUNCER: This is CNN "Breaking News."
RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Randi Kaye. Thanks so much for joining me. We begin with "Breaking News."
At any moment now, officials in Texas will speak on the capture of a fugitive Texas teen and his mother. The so called "Affluenza" teen, Ethan Couch and his mom, Tonya Couch, had been arrested in Mexico. They were caught near the resort town of Puerto Vallarta after several weeks on the run.
Couch is wanted for violating his ten-year probation sentence for killing four people in a drunk driving crash back in 2013.
CNN's justice correspondent Evan Perez joining me now with the very latest on this.
Evan, what are you hearing about these arrests?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Randi, we're told that the U.S. Marshal Service was tracking a cell phone. And that's how they were able to pinpoint the location of Ethan Couch. In recent days, they told the authorities there in Mexico where to find him and that's when the police yesterday moved in to make this arrest.
Now, when they made this arrest, they found Couch was with his mother Tonya. The two of them were believed to have been in Mexico for several -- for at least part of the time that they've been on the run for a couple of weeks now.
You might remember that the Texas sheriff there in Tarrant County had said that they had put -- the mother Tonya on a missing persons list, but they firmly believe that she was helping her son in this escape. So now we're expecting to hear whether or not, at this press conference, whether or not they're going to bring charges against his mother.
KAYE: All right, Evan Perez, thank you. We're going to wait to hear on that press conference as well.
And -- OK, here's the Newser right here. Let's take a listen here.
DEE ANDERSON, SHERIFF: Northern district and our criminal district attorney Sharon Wilson. We're -- let me just tell you the format of what we have planned so that we can hopefully get through this as orderly as possible. I know there are a lot of people with a lot of questions. And we're going to try to get everything talked about that we can talk about today and everything done that needs to be done.
I'm going to speak first and just kind of go through, hopefully, kind of tell the story and then Marshal Taylor will get up and talk and then the D.A. Wilson will get up and talk. At that point, we're just -- then we'll just rotate back through to answer questions. So I'm not going to answer questions until they've both spoken. Hopefully, some of the questions that you, guys, have will be answered during what is continually said.
So with that, we're going to get started. I'm just going to try to make some remarks and talk a little bit to answer some of the issues that have come up over the past 24 hours.
The first thing that I need to do is express our appreciation here at the sheriff's office. As you know, we were the agency that had to work the initial accident scene. Had tremendously vested interest in making sure that Ethan Couch was brought to justice.
We felt like at the time that the court system did not adequately assess any punishment or adequate punishment at least. And so when he then disappeared, obviously, people in this agency who had to work that crime scene and deal with the victims' families and do everything they did took it very personally. So it was a very high priority for us to make sure that we found him and got him back. And we're very hopeful that very soon that's going to happen. He'll be back here.
But the first thing I need to do is express the great amount of appreciation I have not only for the Marshal's office. Rick's people have just gone above and beyond in this case for us to help locate Ethan and his mom. The D.A.'s office has played as always a pivotal role in that. The Marshal's Fugitive Task Force that works out of this area, both the district attorney and the Marshal, and our agency all have people assigned to that task force. They have worked tirelessly almost around the clock on this since the disappearance of Ethan and his mom.
So all of those people not to mention police agencies across the state and across the country, every lead we had that we needed followed up somewhere else we contacted a police agency and they took care of it for us. Everyone has been tremendously cooperative.
Understand that there's a lot of things that you're going to want to know and ask about that we still are not going to be able to talk about because of the ongoing investigation part of this and the fact that we still are trying to get Ethan and Tonya back on U.S. soil. And that is very important that we don't say anything or do anything that will prohibit that from happening or derail that. We're on schedule to do that. We hope so.
[11:05:25] As I said early on, there was a strong feeling on many people's part, mine particularly, that they had fled the country once we found out they were missing. And, obviously, it was proven correct.
We worked a tremendous amount of leads as I said. We followed leads both locally, state-wide, in the country but then kept getting information that they were probably out of the country. And, eventually, got some intelligence information that was very valuable that they had probably driven the pickup truck that we put out at the last news conference, the information for people to look for, got some intelligence they probably driven that to the border and then crossed over the border and perhaps still in that truck.
Continued to gather information both locally and away, and learned through some interviews that what we suspected all along had happened. That they had planned to disappear. That they even had something that was almost akin to a going away party before they left town.
Our suspicion that his mother was assisting and helping him has proven true, we believe. And so we followed those leads and eventually led to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where they were taken into custody.
The information really kind of turned on Christmas Eve. It's about the time that I think the really kind of concrete information came in and they were able to really concentrate on the area down there, where they were eventually located.
The problem with it was, as you can imagine, Puerto Vallarta, Christmas time, tremendous amount of tourists down there. So American people were prevalent everywhere and they weren't going to -- it wouldn't be somewhere they would stick out. They were wise to go into that kind of area. But what I think we can all classify as really good police work, found out where they were staying and where they were located and we were -- they were able to take them into custody.
The Mexican authorities have them in custody as we speak. We are working -- the Marshals are working to get them back here to the states at which point Ethan will be taken into custody and put in our juvenile facility here in Tarrant County for a hearing there, in front of a juvenile judge.
And we have now had an arrest warrant issued for Tonya Couch for hindering and apprehension. So she will be arrested and brought to our jail upon arrival back in the states.
Again, they are still officially in the custody of the Mexican government right now. Some of these things that are questions you're going to have, we'll just going to have to wait and not answer. And some of the things that I've been asked over the last 24 hours are stuff that we're just not going to be able to talk about and please understand that.
We're not trying to withhold information, but a lot of people assisted in finding these people and those people deserve to be protected. What they told us and they will be protected as far as we're concerned. So a lot of the information that came to us, we're not going to be able to talk about how we got the information. We're not going to be able to talk about how we learned what we learned and we're certainly not going to talk about the investigative technique that we got them -- that they used to get them into custody.
As I said, I think it was really, really good police work more than anything else. We're excited that we have them back in custody, to be honest with you. We're going to breathe a lot easier when they're back in this country. And we have him locked up here in Tarrant County. And that's the ultimate goal. So that's where we're headed. That's where we are. With that, I'll turn it over to Mr. Taylor. And then we'll be back to answer questions.
RICK TAYLOR, U.S. MARSHAL: Thank you, sheriff.
Good morning, everyone.
Well, after 11 days of the U.S. Marshal Service tracking down Ethan Couch, we can finally say he's in custody. He was arrested last night by Mexican authorities down in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I want to echo with what the sheriff said, the working relationship that we have together here in the Dallas Fort Worth area and the northern district of Texas through our task force.
As he said, one of his officers is assign to the task force as well as the district attorney's office and we enjoy that relationship. It's really the collaboration of the federal law enforcement, state and locals, that really brings, you know, fugitives to justice. And, really, this was nothing more than a textbook case of that.
[11:10:15] The collaboration among all the officers, the tirelessness, the dedication, the perseverance, the passion that these officers have in tracking down fugitives, that's why we're successful, it's because of that and it's because of the people.
And it also spans internationally, too, as we pursue fugitives in foreign countries. We have a great relationship with our Mexican counterparts down there. And they help us a lot and we also help them out as well. And that also carries to other countries as well.
We still don't have a lot of details yet about his return as well as the mother. We're still working through that with the Mexican government. But rest assured that we are very happy and pleased that they are in the custody of the Mexican authorities and they'll be returned to the United States here shortly.
SHARON WILSON, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, TARRANT COUNTY: I also want to express my gratitude, too, especially the U.S. Marshal Service for their assistance in getting the return of Ethan Couch and his mother.
Clearly, without their assistance, we would not have him at this time. We're very grateful to the Marshal Service as well as to the Sheriff's Department for their work on this case. When he is returned along with his mother, we expect the mother to be charged with hindering apprehension in Texas law and then we expect to begin proceedings with Ethan Couch.
As you know, there's already hearings set on January the 19th to transfer his juvenile probation to the adult system. We are bound by the sentence that he received from the juvenile court, which was a ten-year probated sentence. That sentence can be revoked. It is an anomaly of Texas law that if we revoke his juvenile sentence, he would stay in a juvenile facility until his 19th birthday, which is April 11th of next year, 2016.
So if we proceed in the juvenile sentence, his maximum sentence that he will receive is four months of confinement. That, in my opinion, is not a sufficient punishment for the taking of four lives.
Our request of the court is going to be to transfer his probation to the adult court and deal with him in the adult system, where we no longer have to be concerned about the best interest of the child; the child defendant in this case. So that's our plan going forward.
And let me again thank the public for their assistance in capturing Ethan Couch because we got -- our officers, the sheriff's office, the Marshal's Service received information from throughout the United States and foreign countries about the location of the vehicle and trying to find him. We're very grateful for everyone's cooperation in that.
ANDERSON: Again, before I answer questions, let me say that probably the one group I didn't thank is the media as well. I mean, all the coverage that we got on this certainly generated a tremendous amount of number of leads for us. And you all have been very good and helpful in that. So with that, if you raise your hand, don't yell at me. If you raise your hand, I'll try to get to everybody. Understand that if, you know, if you've got something for them, please wait, they'll be up here after me. So, go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Sheriff, now that he is in custody, what do you want to happen to Ethan Couch this time around?
ANDERSON: Well, I'd like for him to be held accountable as I've said all along. I don't think ten years probation was appropriate for killing four innocent people and driving at three times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood. So, you know, I along with the D.A. are going to be very hopeful that the case is transferred into an adult court.
He is now an adult in the eyes of the state, and I would like to see him put in an adult prison and serve out the remainder of his ten-year sentence. And, hopefully, we'll continue to investigate this, perhaps be able to file an additional case in him for fleeing initially from the probation. UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Are you saying that Ethan and his
mother drove the truck all the way to Puerto Vallarta? Or was it left at the border? Also, is his father involved in any way?
ANDERSON: Our understanding right now is that he did -- they did drive the truck down there. That's the information that we were told on different occasions. The investigation is ongoing. And we're not at all through yet.
I will say that, to this point, we haven't uncovered any information that the father is involved. And that's all I can say about that. We certainly haven't rule it out. But at the same time, all the work that we've done, we've not seen any indication that he was involved in this to this point.
[11:15:08] UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Sheriff, you said that before they left, there was a sort of going away party. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
ANDERSON: I don't know a lot to answer that question to be honest with you. We were just told -- as we were trying to determine if this was pre-meditated as we believed it was, a statement was made that they basically had a gathering before they left and, you know, kind of characterized it as more or less a going away party, which to us meant that what we suspected had happened. That it was carefully planned and timed to get out of the country. So that was the important part of that.
Who was there; how it happened; or where it was, I'm not familiar with.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: And, Sheriff, just to be clear, you do characterize this as a potential going away party involving family members? You also mentioned that the brother may have been involved in some way in assisting them.
Is that correct?
ANDERSON: No. I don't have any information about anybody assisting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: OK, sorry, maybe I misheard you then.
The going away party, did it involve family members?
ANDERSON: I don't know. I don't know who was there. Honestly, I don't.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Sheriff, this going away party, did this happen after the discovery of this video purportedly showing Ethan at the party where the beer pong was being played? ANDERSON: I think the timeline would show that. Obviously, it
happened right before they left. They left after the video had surfaced.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: What kind of details can you share about the arrest itself?
ANDERSON: Arrest, itself? Not really anything. I mean, that's not, you know, none of us were there and it was carried out by the Mexican authorities. And so I really don't know other than they supposedly stopped them in a roadway. I don't know any more about that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Oh, so, they were driving?
ANDERSON: As we understand. Again, we're just getting really third hand information from Mexico about how it all -- they put out a statement this morning that you've probably seen that gave an intersection of where they supposedly arrested them, so I'm assuming that they were mobile at that point.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Sheriff, where are they in Mexico right now? In another city? In a special holding facility? And are you talking weeks or days before they'll be coming back here to Texas?
ANDERSON: Well, that's Rick's world about coming back. And I wouldn't -- I don't know honestly where they are being held nor would we probably answer that at this point in time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: In the mug shot that was released this morning, Ethan Couch's hair appears to be dyed black.
Do you think he was actively trying to alter his appearance to evade capture?
ANDERSON: I think that's the natural assumption you have to make if you look at that photograph. And we certainly talked numerous times during the investigation that we believed that they would do everything they could to change their appearance. And so when you see the photo of him, he certainly tried. It was certainly easily recognizable. It didn't seem to work too well.
I don't think anybody would not recognize him. But his hair was markedly different, markedly darker. So I think that was obviously probably an attempt to change his appearance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Do we know anything about their movements in Mexico? Where they stayed? How they got the resources?
ANDERSON: There's a lot of work still going on on that. Obviously, we -- during the investigation, there was references made and things like that but nothing that we can talk about at this point. We're going to keep working on a lot of that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Sheriff, now that he has been captured, what do you want to tell the victims' families?
ANDERSON: Well, I just want to tell them that we have done everything humanly possible to bring justice to them and their loved ones. And as I said many times, I don't think initially that justice was served. And we hope now justice will be served.
And as I had no control over what happened the first time, now we have really no control over what happens now. It's in the hands of the judicial system, which in our opinion didn't work well the first time, but we certainly think, this time, hopefully, that justice will be served. And I will tell the families that, you know, for the sheriff's office and all of us here today, we did everything humanly possible and you're looking at three sleep deprived people who have been working on this round-the-clock pretty much trying to make this happen.
And so we're very grateful, I'm sure. I haven't talked to any of them yet. But I know with what was said earlier, they're going to be very relieved that he's going to be back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: I know you said there's not much you can say in terms of the tips that came in. But, generally, can you give us a sense of were these just tips that people saw them on the street, or is this tips generated from people close to them, within their circle of friends or family?
ANDERSON: I would say both of those are generally correct. I mean, there are people that knew them that we talked to that gave information. There were people -- I mean, dozens and dozens of calls of sightings, you know, many of which were erroneous, but they were people that thought they saw them somewhere. So we certainly had our share of those. But, also, people that had valuable information that were able to share it with us.
[11:20:06] UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Sheriff, you said this was -- had this planned out. This is well-intended. It sounds like they were planning to running -- to run, I guess, forever, because this office, none of these offices were going to let this drop, right?
ANDERSON: No. And I think that was a message that we try to sent out very strongly. And when I was asked during the investigation if, you know, what would happen if we couldn't find them, and I said then, he's going to have a long life unable to return to his home.
I mean, he would have not, literally, not been able to come back to America because I don't care how long he was gone, the warrant would have stayed out for him. And when he tried to cross back in, he would have been arrested. So he was at best looking at a life of exile. There was no way that he could come back to Texas or the states for that matter. So, at some point, we felt like if he stayed gone long enough knowing the way they are, they'll try to get back here and hopefully that would be an opportunity to take him into custody, but it didn't last that long, nor did we think it would with the amount of tips and publicity we had generated. I felt like they'd find him and they did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Do you think he crossed before the warrant was issued -- crossed the border? And how do you think he was able to cross there easily or to cross easily?
ANDERSON: Well, I don't know. You know, typically, crossing over from here to Mexico is not a difficult thing to do. You know, the United States doesn't check people going out of the country. They check people coming in to the country.
So I don't think there would have been any issue or problem with them getting out at that point, particularly since it was before any pickup order or detention order was issued.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Sheriff, you've been very vocal on expressing your anger about this situation. What would you say about Tonya Couch as a mother helping her son evade capture? What does -- what do you think about her in all of this?
ANDERSON: I'm not the least bit surprised to be honest with you. I mean, we saw the actions of how she acted when the initial offense occurred. We saw how she acted throughout the trial. Her entire focus has been on protecting Ethan. Her entire focus has been on making sure he didn't see any justice done. Making sure he was not accountable.
So for her to assist him, I felt like it was just a natural next occurrence. When he was gone and they said she was gone, I was absolutely not the least bit surprised. And I wasn't surprised that they were found together. I'm not surprised that she helped him. And I just think if you've seen the depositions of that civil suit, when she's asked questions about the last time she disciplined or the last time -- I mean, there's just no chance that she will -- she will ever think he needs to be punished or held accountable.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) accommodation?
ANDERSON: I don't know anything about that. I really don't.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: You said, at this point, you don't have any evidence that the father knew about this. But if there was some kind of a going away party, it kind of indicates others were aware they were going to flee.
Is it -- are you looking at other people who may have had knowledge, who may actually be facing charges as well?
ANDERSON: Well, we're looking at everything right now. And that's about all I can say about that. You know, I don't know that anybody there was absolutely aware of what was going to take place. But, you know, from the discussion of the gathering, it more or less was that.
So we're going to continue looking at everything. And I don't know that there will be any further charges filed. If we come across something, we'll definitely will pursue it. Of course, we're going to be as aggressive as we can with this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: What was the father's reaction when you told him -- or when your office told him about the arrest?
ANDERSON: Whose reaction?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: The father's?
ANDERSON: I haven't -- he wasn't on my list. I didn't call him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Was he helpful at all?
ANDERSON: He was cooperative, as I've said. When we interviewed him, he was cooperative. He didn't really give any information, claimed he didn't really know anything. So to say that he was helpful or led us in any direction, I don't think so, but he was certainly cooperative and answered our questions. Just said he hadn't heard anything, hadn't heard from them and didn't have any idea where they were.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: I don't know if you can speak of this, but the process of getting the Couches back to the states? (INAUDIBLE)
ANDERSON: I'll let Rick talk about that in just a minute.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Does this look like the kind of thing where they would have had stash a lot of cash ahead of time to pull off something like this?
KAYE: All right, you've been listening there to a press conference in Tarrant County talking about the so-called "Affluenza" teen, who was picked up with his mother in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, overnight.
As you heard, the sheriff there say a little bit earlier in that press conference, they had taken their pickup truck, crossed the border. There was some type of going away party. And now Ethan Couch and his mother, Tonya Couch, will be brought back at some point -- he didn't say when -- to the United States.
Ethan Couch will head to a juvenile facility and his mother will also be brought to jail. There you see their pictures right there.
[11:25:09] Let's talk this over a bit with Judge Glenda Hatchett. She was the host of the court TV show "Judge Hatchett" and founded her own law firm. And Todd Clement; He's a lawyer who represented one of Ethan Couch's victims, who was injured in his deadly drunk driving crash.
We'll get to the legal mess that these two are in in just a moment. But, Todd, first, how are the families of the victims reacting to the fact that now they have been caught?
TODD CLEMENT, ATTORNEY FOR A VICTIM OF ETHAN COUCH: You know, I spoke with them literally seconds after this news broke on CNN. And the first one I called was Eric Boyles who lost his wife and daughter in this terrible crash. And, you know, he expressed three emotions.
The first emotion was relief. The second emotion was gratefulness because indeed, not only law enforcement but the entire country had mobilize to try to find Ethan and Tonya. And I think the third emotion was satisfaction that, indeed, finally, 2-1/2 years after this initial tragedy, it appears that justice may very well be done.
KAYE: And what do you think at this point? I mean, certainly, there's a lot of talk that they may move Ethan Couch's case to an adult court. I'm going to ask the judge about that in a moment. But what do you think the victims' families, Todd, would like to see happen to Ethan Couch and his mom now?
CLEMENT: I think they're ready for the sentence that was given out in the juvenile trial which was ten years probation, but I think a lot of them, in fact all of them felt that ten years in jail would have been much more appropriate. I think they're ready to see that sentence carried out. I think they're ready to see Ethan as the sheriff so colorfully said a few weeks ago do some time in big boy jail.
KAYE: Yes. And, judge, it sounds like the D.A. and the sheriff and just about all of law enforcement is ready for that. And that's why they're talking about wanting to move his case. There was some talk about that even before this, even before he disappeared, moving his case to the adult court. He turns 19 in April.
What would that mean, does that mean that he could serve out the rest of, I guess, the eight years that's now left on his probation in an adult facility?
JUDGE GLENDA HATCHETT, "JUDGE HATCHETT" TV COURT SERIES: Absolutely, Randi. And the D.A. was very clear at this press conference, as was the sheriff. And so I expect that to happen. I expect them to go in and basically say that this should be transferred to adult court and that his probation should be revoked.
But there is also a caveat to this because under Texas law, you can be sentenced up to 20 years for manslaughter -- DUI manslaughter. And so the question really becomes whether the prosecutor will actually ask for a sentence longer than the balance of the probation. And that's going to be very interesting to see.
But I would be very surprised if this probation, supervision and revocation is not moved to an adult court.
KAYE: And they're also talking about -- the sheriff said filing an additional case on him for fleeing.
HATCHETT: Yes. Yes.
KAYE: So it's not like they're going to retry him for the death of these four people when he was drunk driving. But this is another case that they're going to be looking at.
HATCHETT: Right. They are barred because of double jeopardy, because he basically has been sentenced for the death of the four people. And my heart goes out to all those families, as all of ours do.
But this is another chance in a way to correct what I think was a despicable sentence of Affluenza. I mean, this is ridiculous. And so, his mother will face charges. He, as you mentioned, will face charges about fleeing. But I don't know if that will be concurrent or whether that will be added on. We'll have to see on that.
KAYE: All right, interesting conversation for sure.
KAYE: Todd, thank you very much.
Todd Clement, appreciate your time and, of course, give our best to the families.
Judge, stand by if you will.
HATCHETT: Of course.
KAYE: Much more breaking news ahead.
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