For the first time since his arrest on May 18, 2018, in connection with the most deadly school shooting in Texas history, Dimitrios Pagourtzis appeared in an open courtroom Monday.
Wearing a green Galveston County Jail jumpsuit, chained around the waist and handcuffed, Pagourtzis, 19, was led into the courtroom minutes before the start of a hearing during which attorneys argued whether his trial, still months away, should be moved out of Galveston County.
Pagourtzis is accused of killing 10 people and shooting 14 others inside Santa Fe High School on May 18, 2018.
He is charged with capital murder of multiple persons and aggravated assault of a public servant and has been held without bond since his arrest.
In a hearing punctuated at times by a passing thunderstorm, Pagourtzis’ lawyer argued he should receive the same treatment as others accused of mass murder.
The trials of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, serial killer Ted Bundy and Washington D.C. sniper Lee Malvo all were moved out of the jurisdictions where they happened because of concern about whether the accused would receive fair trials, defense attorney Nick Poehl said.
With that comparison in mind, Pagourtzis’ trial should be moved out of Galveston County, Poehl argued.
“We have this process the code envisions, that certain cases, because of their notoriety, their emotional impact, simply present too great a challenge to afford a defendant due process,” Poehl said.
Poehl pointed in particular to social media comments as evidence that Galveston County’s jury pool was tainted with people who had made up their minds about the Pagourtzis case.
Some of the commenters said Pagourtzis should be killed or burned, Poehl said.
“This is the community,” Poehl said. “This is them telling us what they’re thinking.”
Arguing against the motion, Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady said Poehl hadn’t proven the social media comments about Pagourtzis came from people in Galveston County, and even if they had, it didn’t prove those people wouldn’t act fairly if chosen for a jury.
Accurate local news reporting about factual events was not reason enough to claim a jury pool was tainted, Roady said. Local officials had also been successful at keeping many details, such as video evidence and detailed descriptions of what happened inside the school that day, out of the news, he said.
“There are no videos out there,” Roady said. “There are no recordings; there are no detailed statements.”
His office and other agencies had resisted news media requests seeking to make those things public, he said.
“The fact that there was a lot of media coverage is not enough,” Roady said.
Judge John Ellisor planned to make a decision about whether to move the trial by the end of the week, he said.
The hearing was notable because it was Pagourtzis’ first appearance in a courtroom since the shooting happened. In January, he appeared at a hearing by video conference.
Pagourtzis was silent as the attorneys made their arguments, and did not interact with any of the dozens of people, many of them victims or families of victims, that attended the hearing.
As he walked in, one person sobbed audibly.
A bailiff watching over the group in the jury assembly room announced that people who were unable to control themselves would be asked to leave.
No one left.