Attorney: Accused Santa Fe High gunman likely to be found incompetent to stand trial

HOUSTON – The teen accused of murdering eight classmates and two teachers at Santa Fe High School in May 2018, will likely be declared incompetent to stand trial, his defense attorney, Nicholas Poehl, told KPRC after the presiding judge lifted a gag order.  

Poehl moved to have his client, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, declared incompetent after defense experts conducted a monthslong mental health evaluation.

"All three experts who have evaluated Mr. Pagourtzis for competency have determined that he is not presently competent to stand trial," Poehl said, referring to a defense team expert, a court's independent expert and a state's expert. "While there will be further information coming from the court over the next few weeks, the state is agreeing that he is presently not competent, this means he will be sent to a state psychiatric hospital for treatment with the goal of restoring him to legal competency. Once he is restored to competency, trial can proceed."

A formal order from the bench will be forthcoming, Poehl said. 

Galveston County Assistant District Attorney Colton Turner issued this statement Tuesday: 

In August 2019, defense attorneys for Dimitrios Pagourtzis asked the Court to order an examination of whether the defendant was competent to stand trial.  The defense supported this request with an opinion from their hired expert that the defendant was currently incompetent.

The Court appointed an independent expert to conduct a competency evaluation.  A few weeks ago, that expert informed the Court that she also believed the defendant was currently incompetent to stand trial.
Since the law allows both the State and defense the ability to challenge the defendant's competency, we sought a third opinion from an expert whom the State had retained early on in this case.  That expert has now agreed with the Court's expert that the defendant is currently incompetent to stand trial.  Given that there is no evidence with which we can further challenge this issue, we do not intend to object to the Court entering a finding that the defendant is currently incompetent to stand trial. 
Whether a defendant is currently competent to stand trial in a case is different than whether he was insane at the time of the offense.  While experts have given an opinion on the defendant's current competency to stand trial, there has been no determination on his sanity at the time of the offense.  That issue can only be resolved at trial.
Our focus continues to be getting this case tried to obtain justice for the victims.  That means the next step is to use every effort to have this defendant restored to competency.  The law provides a process to get that done, and we will use every resource available to ensure that it gets done as quickly as possible.


Parents react to the news

"All I can say is that justice was delayed today," said Sonia Lopez. 

Lopez's daughter, Sarah Salazar, is a survivor of the Santa Fe shooting. Lopez said that she was disappointed to hear about the potential new developments and wants more answers. 

"We were just excited that trial was coming in February and now we don't know if and when we will have a trial," Lopez said. 


About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”