Federal authorities Monday took a former student charged in the deadly mass shooting at Santa Fe High School into custody, apparently reversing an earlier decision not to bring charges against him.
“They’ve apparently had their minds changed about filing charges,” said Nick Poehl, the attorney representing Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 18, who is accused of killing 10 people and wounding more than a dozen others May 18 inside Santa Fe High School.
Federal authorities took custody of Pagourtzis at the Galveston County Jail and took him to the federal courthouse in Galveston for a 1 p.m. arraignment hearing, Poehl said.
“We didn’t learn much, because it’s a sealed case,” he said.
The federal proceedings are sealed because Pagourtzis is considered a juvenile under federal law, Poehl said. He had been considered an adult in the state court system.
Federal authorities can take steps to certify Pagourtzis to stand trial as an adult, but it’s a lengthy process, Poehl said.
Angela Dodge, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, declined to comment about the matter.
Parents and other relatives of those injured and killed during the Santa Fe shooting for months have lobbied federal authorities to pursue charges against Pagourtzis because a federal conviction might result in a longer sentence.
Because he was 17 at the time of the shooting, Pagourtzis might be eligible for parole after 40 years on a state conviction, while he could be sentenced to life without parole in the federal system.
Federal authorities, before reversing course on Monday, told the parents they had no plans to seek charges, said Rhonda Hart, mother of Kimberly Vaughan, who was among the 10 people killed.
“I’m just really glad that for the first time in almost a year, all of the families all agreed on one issue and made phone calls and wrote letters and spurred them to action,” Hart said. “I hope it means we, as victims, have a say in what happens.”
Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady told The Daily News he had to defer to federal authorities about Monday’s events, saying they make their own decisions.
Even with federal intervention, the case should proceed normally in Galveston County, Roady said.
A district court judge in Galveston County on Feb. 27 agreed to move Pagourtzis’ trial to another county, but still has several weeks before he must make a decision about where. Before federal authorities took Pagourtzis Monday, he had been held at the Galveston County jail without bond, according to county jail records.
Just weeks before federal authorities seized Pagourtzis, U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick told The Daily News he had assigned a full-time prosecutor, the first in some years, to the federal courthouse in Galveston and that his office had a renewed focus in the Galveston district.