Accused Santa Fe High School shooter makes first public appearance since his arrest
GALVESTON — In his first public court appearance since his arrest, the teenager charged with capital murder in the Santa Fe High School shooting heard his defense attorney argue that he would not receive a fair trial in Galveston County.
Dimitrios Pagourtis, 18, entered the courtroom shackled, wearing a green Galveston County Jail jumpsuit and looking more gaunt than in his mugshots. Pagourtzis’ father, Antonios, seated in the audience behind the defense, broke down in tears upon seeing his son. The defemdant did not appear to acknowledge his family and spent most of the hearing looking down at the table.
Pagourtzisis, who was 17 at the time of the shooting, is charged with capital murder and aggravated assault against a public servant in the episode last May 18 that killed 10 people and wounded 13, including John Barnes, a Santa Fe Independent School District police officer. Pagourtzisis faces life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years if convicted.
Family members of the 10 victims — and several victims injured in the shooting — sat behind the prosecutors. Among them was Flo Rice, a substitute teacher who was shot through the legs; Steve Perkins, whose wife, Ann Perkins, was killed; and Rosie Y. Stone, who lost her son Chris on May 18. Sarah Salazar, a student wounded during the shooting, was also in the courtroom with her mother, Sonia Lopez.
The defense and prosecution presented oral arguments Monday regarding a change of venue for Pagourtzis’ trial. They submitted written arguments nearly a month ago to state District Judge John Ellisor.
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Pagourtzis’ attorney, Nick Poehl, argued that rampant pretrial publicity had tainted the potential jury pool in Galveston County. He cited social media comments that he said indicated a bias among local residents.
“Considering the number of alleged victims in this case, if you draw a circle around each of these victims, you’d have a hard tme finding anybody in this county who doesn’t know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who wasn’t affected in this case,” Poehl said.
Poehl invoked the names of several high-profile convicted mass murderers whose trials were moved from the communities where their crimes were committed: Timothy McVeigh, who bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995; Ted Bundy, who assaulted and murdered numerous young women and girls during the 1970s; and Lee Boyd Malvo, who committed multiple murders as part of the Beltway sniper attacks in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., in 2002.
Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady cited legal precedents in support of the argument that a defendant’s notoriety does not necessarily produce prejudice among potential jurors.
“There’s no authority that says the juror can’t know somebody who’s affected,” Roady said. “That’s not the standard.”
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Roady also argued that the scarce details provided to the news media and the public countered Poehl’s assertion that “intrusive publicity” has affected potential jurors’ impartiality.
No surveillance video, body or dashboard camera footage, police or autopsy reports have been released, Roady said, because “time and again, law enforcement and the cities involved, and the school district, worked together to protect the integrity of this investigation and to protect the integrity of this prosecution.”
Social media comments were a key aspect of Poehl’s argument for a venue change. He cited several comments posted on Facebook that included inflammatory remarks about Pagourtzis.
“Social media commentary on this case gives a window on what the community can be thinking,” Poehl said. “It shows that they’ve prejudged my client’s guilt before receiving facts.”
Roady questioned whether most of the comments submitted as evidence came from Galveston County residents who would be potential jurors.
Ellisor said he would decide by the end of the week whether to move the trial.
Seeing the defendant in the flseh was emotional for some shooting survivors and victims’ family members, who had seen him only via video stream from the jail at a previous court hearing in January.
Scot Rice, whose wife, Flo, was a substitute teacher injured during the shooting, disagreed with Poehl’s arguments that a jury outside Galveston County would be less biased.
“No matter where you go, if they move this trial, we’re gonna go there, and we’re gonna be on the media there and the jury pool’s gonna be tainted there because we’re not gonna let it go,” Rice said.
Sonia Lopez, whose daughter, Sarah Salazar, still has lead in her blood from shotgun wounds during the shooting, said she has learned to forgive Pagourtzis. Lopez particularly empathized with Pagourtzis’ family.
“From all the suffering that I’ve gone through with my children, I can understand the pain that they’re going through,” Lopez said. “At the same time, they’ve got to face their reality.”
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