Santa Fe families fight for answers, new law nearly 5 years after mass shooting

A Galveston area state senator is working to pass a law that would allow crime victims and immediate family members to view the evidence in certain criminal cases that have not yet gone to trial.

The bill was filed by State Sen. Mayes Middleton/(R) Dist. 11 and comes with the backing of loved ones of those killed and wounded during the Santa Fe High School mass shooting in 2018.

Typically, state law allows evidence in a criminal case to remain confidential before trial.

For family members of those devastated by the Santa Fe massacre, a trial has not happened because the accused shooter remains incompetent.

Dimitrios Pagourtzis is charged with murdering eight students, two educators and wounding several others during a mass shooting at Santa Fe High School.

“In this particular case, she was just erased out of my life. One day she was there, the next day she was gone, and I know nothing else, absolutely nothing,” said Steve Perkins whose wife, Ann Perkins, was killed during the shooting.

Steve and Ann Perkins were married for nearly 30 years and he said he lays awake at night wondering about her final moments.

“Did she live for 20-30 minutes? Was she still alive? Did she suffer? You know, what happened that day?” Perkins said.

Scot Rice’s wife, Flo, was critically wounded during the May 2018 rampage.

“I have all these questions in my mind. Like where did it happen?” said Scot Rice. “I would like to see how he was arrested, how long it took after Flo was shot until they got him in custody.”

“That information belongs to me, not them,” said Perkins.

Hearing this pain, Middleton filed Senate Bill 435 which, prior to trial, would allow immediate family members to see medical examiner reports and victims of crimes would be able to see videos of crimes that resulted in the death of a person. The bill also allows prosecutors to require signed confidentiality agreements from those viewing the material and prohibits any type of recording or duplication of the material.

“If I could just understand what happened to my wife that day as far as what she went through, it would mean a lot to me,” said Perkins.

Middleton filed this bill last session but it didn’t make it to a full vote. Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady’s office is prosecuting this case and he supports the passage of this bill.

“I support SB 435, filed this Session, which would allow prosecutors to share certain information about a crime with crime victims and their families, while not having to make that information available to the general public. Under the current law, crime victims and their families don’t have the ability to access this information prior to trial. This has been especially heartbreaking for the victims’ families in the Santa Fe High School shooting since the trial in that case has been delayed while we wait for the defendant to be restored to competency. This Bill would address that issue and, hopefully, allow us to provide some of the information these families have been waiting for,” Roady wrote in a statement to KPRC 2.

Pagourtzis was declared incompetent to stand trial 18 months after the murders and his period of commitment to the North Texas State Hospital was extended for a fifth time at the beginning of February.

KPRC 2 legal analyst Brian Wice said defense attorneys, prosecutors, and the judge can request regular updates on what treatments Pagourtzis is receiving but have little say in what type of treatments are being administered.

“Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys have particular talents that don’t extend to their ability to dictate treatment on the part of professional physicians,” said Wice.

Wice also said the issue of Pagourtzis’ current state of incompetence is separate from what is expected to be an insanity defense if the case ever goes to trial.

“Competency is dependent upon one’s ability to consult with their lawyers and have an understanding of the proceedings against them. Sanity is one’s inability to conform their conduct to the requirements of the law at a particular moment in time when the offense is committed,” Wice added.

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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.”