SANTA FE, Texas – At a hearing Friday in the Santa Fe mass shooting case, a judge appointed an independent party to do a full competency evaluation on Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the charged Santa Fe High School gunman.
Judge Jeth Jones in Galveston County said Pagourtzis, who is charged with capital murder, has been at North Texas State Hospital in Vernon, Texas, four years and they’ve failed to do their job. The judge also wants a hearing to re-evaluate change-of-venue.
The court’s order means an independent medical expert will assess Pagourtzis and report whether he is competent to stand trail. The report is expected in approximately a month.
Jack Roady, Galveston County Criminal District Attorney, said via a news release, “The victims and their families have long waited for justice, and I am encouraged by the possibility that the prosecution may move forward. My office will zealously pursue every available means to bring this defendant to justice.”
Roady said Dr. Joseph Penn, director of Mental Health Services at UTMB Health, is the doctor appointed to do the independent evaluation.
This is the first hearing since the case stalled in 2019 when Pagourtzis was declared incompetent to stand trial.
Court records listed Friday’s scheduled proceeding as a “status conference Judge.” The following Friday another proceeding listed as “Check Status State Hospital” is scheduled.
Prior to the hearing, prosecutor Kevin Petroff and defense attorney Nick Poehl told KPRC 2 Investigates they anticipate the judge would call for the appointment of an independent party to conduct an evaluation of Pagourtzis’ competency.
Pagourtzis remains in North Texas State Hospital as doctors work to restore his competency. Annual reviews have concluded he is not competent to stand trial. Pagourtzis is charged with murdering eight classmates, two educators and wounding several others during a rampage at Santa Fe High School in May 2018.
Santa Fe families fight for answers, new law nearly 5 years after mass shooting
Nearly 4 years later, families still waiting for accused Santa Fe gunman Dimitrios Pagortzis to face trial
Solutionaries: Making schools safer for our children
Santa Fe gunman remains incompetent to stand trial, Galveston County DA’s office says
Pagourtzis was first declared incompetent to stand trial in 2019 and his period of commitment at a state hospital has been extended five times, with the most recent extension coming on Feb. 1. Pagourtzis was committed to the state hospital after he was declared incompetent by a defense expert, a prosecution expert and an independent expert appointed by the previous judge presiding over this case.
Families of those killed and wounded have questioned why doctors have not been able to restore Pagourtzis’ competency. Family members have also been increasingly vocal about wanting more information as to what treatments he is receiving, and any progress being made to restore his competency.
Families of the victims said they received a text from the DA’s Office, which read, in part:
“Good morning. We’re glad to report some potentially good news this morning. The judge told us he wants to hold a status conference tomorrow at 10 am. We expect that the judge is going to appoint an independent expert to conduct a review of the defendant’s competency to stand trial.
“You are welcome to attend the status conference tomorrow. The defendant is still in custody at the North Texas State Hospital, so he will not be present in court, nor will he be appearing by remote audio or video. We expect the status conference will only involve the judge, the State, and the defense attorneys. Based on the judge’s notice, we don’t expect him to hear any witness testimony, nor do we expect it to be a very long conference.”
Flo Rice, who was critically wounded during the shooting, also sent KPRC 2 a statement.
“This is what we have been asking to be done for three years. I greatly appreciate Judge Jones seeing the iniquity in the situation and taking action,” the statement read. “We have to be reserved in our excitement. If this independent evaluation finds that he is still incompetent, then it is exactly what the defense needs to have him civilly committed for life in a mental institution.”