RICHMOND, Texas – The trial for the suspect in the Santa Fe High School massacre is being moved to Fort Bend County, a judge announced Friday.
Dimitrios Pagourtzis is accused of killing eight classmates and two educators during the May 18, 2018 rampage at the school in Galveston County.
Pagourtzis’ attorneys filed a motion in January requesting a change of venue, saying their client could not receive a fair trial in Galveston County because of pretrial publicity.
The judge granted that motion in February.
The trial is slated to begin early next year.
Why is the trial being moved?
Defense attorneys argued the personal impact the massacre at Santa Fe high school had on the community would make finding an impartial jury in Galveston County difficult.
Judge John Ellisor granted the motion for a change of venue and announced Fort Bend County as the location on June 21. Poehl said the change of venue is not about whether a potential juror has heard about the case, but the myriad personal connections impacted by the murders of eight students, two educators and the wounding of more than a dozen other students and staff.
During a hearing, the judge indicated the Fort Bend County courthouse is 77 miles from the Galveston County courthouse and he chose the location because he felt it would have the least impact on travel.
“It's a good start and I hope we will be able to get a fair jury there,” Poehl said.
When will the trial begin?
According to a docket control order filed with the court, jury selection will begin on Jan. 23, 2020, and is expected to last three weeks. The trial is scheduled to start Feb. 18. The trial is expected to last four to six weeks.
Will Pagourtzis be moved to Fort Bend County for the trial?
Yes, Pagourtzis will be housed in the Fort Bend County Jail during the trial. Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls said Galveston County officials have already toured his jail and preparations are underway. Nehls said his jail will follow the same protocols Galveston County is using in terms of keeping Pagourtzis separated from the general jail population and keeping him under 24-hour monitoring.
“Over the next four or five months we'll be communicating with the (Galveston County) Sheriff’s Office on a weekly basis and as it gets closer I'm sure on a daily basis,” Nehls said.
Has Pagourtzis entered a plea?
No, he has not formally given a plea to the charges of capital murder and aggravated assault against a public servant. However, for the time the possibility of an insanity defense was raised.
While Poehl said he has not formally notified prosecutors he intends to employ this defense, the issue came up in an order from the judge. Poehl has said his client is undergoing a battery of tests to determine his mental competency and on June 5, the judge ordered that prosecutors be allowed to have their own experts independently evaluate Pagourtzis.
“As the Defendant has indicated that he intends to raise the Insanity Defense in this Capital Murder trial, and as law mandates that the State do more than just rely on cross-examination of the defense experts on the issue of Insanity, the State is therefore entitled to have its own experts interview, test, and examine the Defendant,” the order reads.
Poehl said their rounds of tests should be completed in a month.
Is Pagourtzis eligible for the death penalty?
No, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled no one under the age of 18 is eligible for the death penalty or a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. If convicted, Pagourtzis could be sentenced to life in prison, which means he would have to serve 40 years in prison before being eligible for parole.
Is Pagourtzis facing federal charges?
Yes, he was charged in federal court with crimes relating to the May 2018 rampage. Even though Pagourtzis is charged in state court as an adult, in federal court he is considered a juvenile and the records remain sealed.
The federal government is expected to decide in October whether Pagourtzis will be certified to face charges as an adult or remain a juvenile in the eyes of the court.