After five years, families of those killed and wounded during the Santa Fe mass shooting are one step closer to getting answers. Several family members met with Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady Tuesday to learn what evidence in the case he will allow them to review.
These reviews are happening because of a new law the families fought to see passed this legislative session. Senate Bill 435 went into effect on May 24, the day Gov. Greg Abbott signed the measure. The new law allows prosecutors to share evidence in murder cases with family members of victims even if the case has not gone to trial.
Typically evidence is kept confidential prior to trial, but SB 435 gives prosecutors the discretion to share this information without opening up the material to inspection by the general public.
“That’s information that we’ve been begging for this entire time that’s been denied to us,” said Rosie Stone, mother of Chris Stone. “We’re going to be able to see our kids’ autopsy reports we’re going to be able to see somebody cams and we’re going to be able to see evidence video from that day.”
Much of the evidence in the 2018 murders of eight students and two educators at Santa Fe high school has remained sealed because the case hasn’t gone to trial. The case stalled in Nov 2019 when the charged gunman was ruled incompetent to stand trial. Doctors at North Texas State Hospital continue to work to restore his competency.
“You’re never prepared, you’re never prepared to see something like that, to see how your children died but it something you feel you need to see for closure,” said Gail McLeod, Kyle McLeod’s mother.
The new law prohibits family members viewing this evidence to record any of the material; they’re not even allowed to take notes. The Galveston County District Attorney’s Office will also require them to sign non-disclosure agreements.
“If that’s what it takes to get this information then so be it,” said Rhonda Hart, Kimberly Vaughan’s mother. “For five years we weren’t allowed to tell you how they died because our district attorney wouldn’t do it so we literally had to go and pass a law.”
The law still allows prosecutors to shield evidence from those who may be called as witnesses in a trial. No evidence was viewed during Tuesday’s meeting, but appointments are being made to begin the process. The families declined to discuss specifics of when they’ll view this evidence.
“We actually get to see something after five years, it’s a big relief to have some information and not just be wondering and guessing,” said McLeod.
For many of the families viewing this evidence, this step is also about answering questions of accountability.
“I know who pulled the trigger that took my son’s life, but there was multiple people behind that day and how everything went down,” said Stone. “I will hold everybody accountable, it’s taken us five years to get this information, if it takes me another five years, I will.”