FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The probation-only sentence for a North Texas teen who was drunk when he lost control of his pickup truck and killed four pedestrians has left the families of the dead outraged and prosecutors disappointed.
A juvenile court judge sentenced the 16-year-old boy in Fort Worth on Tuesday to 10 years of probation after he confessed to intoxication manslaughter in the June 15 crash on a dark rural road near Fort Worth. Killed were Brian Jennings, 43-year-old Burleson youth minister; Breanna Mitchell of Lillian, 24; Shelby Boyles, 21, and her 52-year-old mother, Hollie Boyles, who lived near the crash site.
Prosecutors had sought the maximum 20 years in state custody for the Keller teen, but his attorneys appealed to state District Judge Jean Boyd that he needed rehabilitation instead of imprisonment, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
If the boy, who is from an affluent family, continued to be cushioned by his family's wealth and another tragedy is likely in his future, prosecutor Richard Alpert said in court.
"There can be no doubt that he will be in another courthouse one day blaming the lenient treatment he received here," he said.
However, Scott Brown, the boy's lead defense attorney, said the teen could have been freed after two years if he had drawn the 20-year sentence.
"(The judge) fashioned a sentence that could have him under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years," he told the Star-Telegram.
Survivors of those killed in the accident drew little comfort from that assurance. Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter, said the family's wealth helped the teen avoid incarceration.
"Money always seems to keep you out of trouble," Boyles said. "Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail. If you had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different."
The defense team recommended a long probationary term at a rehabilitation center near Newport Beach, Calif., with the teen's parents picking up the tab of more than $450,000 a year for treatment.
Shaunna Jennings, the widow of the minister killed in the accident, said her family had forgiven the teen but still believed a sterner punishment was needed.
"You lived a life of privilege and entitlement, and my prayer is that it does not get you out of this," she said. "My fear is that it will get you out of this."
Marla Mitchell, whose daughter also was among those killed, said, "He's not free. None of us knows what God's plan is. He has not escaped judgment. That is in the hands of a higher power."
Authorities said the teen and friends were seen on surveillance video stealing two cases of beer from a store. The teen's pickup truck slammed into the four pedestrians. He also had seven passengers in his Ford F-350, was speeding and had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, according to testimony during the trial.
A psychologist called as an expert defense witness said the boy suffered from "affluenza," growing up in a house where parents were preoccupied with arguments with each other that led to a divorce.
The father "does not have relationships, he takes hostages," psychologist Gary Miller said, and the mother was indulgent. "Her mantra was that if it feels good, do it," he said.