A statehouse debate over whether young people convicted in Texas should receive different treatment, and possibly lighter sentences, drew objections Wednesday from relatives of Santa Fe shooting victims.
State Rep. Joseph Moody‘s House Bill 256 proposes allowing young people sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed before the age of 18 to be eligible for parole after spending 20 years in prison.
Under current state law, a person sentenced to life, regardless of age, is potentially eligible for parole after 40 years.
In presenting his bill to the House of Representative’s Juvenile Justice and Family Issues committee on Wednesday, Moody said the bill was about acknowledging that young people are less developed and more capable of change and rehabilitation than adults convicted of similar crimes.
“We know that a child is more than just a little grown-up,” Moody said.
The bill however, drew the objections from relatives of the victims of the May 18, 2018, shooting and from Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady. The objections centered around what Moody’s bill would mean if Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the accused Santa Fe High School shooter, is convicted. Under the bill, he would be eligible for parole in 20 years rather than 40.
Pagourtzis is charged with capital murder of multiple people and not been convicted, and a trial date has not yet been set.
Roady said the bill would gut “the finality of sentencing” in Texas’ criminal justice system. Roady said he has struggled to explain to the victims’ families that state and federal law already prevent him from seeking a life sentence or the death penalty against Pagourtzis.
“Forgiveness is a good thing, and I agree,” Roady said. “But I would remind the committee that is not the job of the state. The state’s responsibility is to punish and rehabilitate wherever possible. Forgiveness doesn’t come from the state, it comes from those offended.”
Relatives of several Santa Fe shooting victims also spoke against the bill.
The bill “would grant greater consideration to the offender of a crime than to the victims and surviving family members of victims of a capital crime,” said John Conard, an uncle of Jared Black, who was killed inside Santa Fe High School.
“Whether or not the offender was the age of 18 years or under at the time the crime was committed should not be considered more than the impact of the crime on the victims,” Conard said.
Moody said his bill would require only that a board be able to consider parole earlier than now allowed under the law. The board would be under no obligation to grant early parole, he said.
“My heart breaks for those families,” Moody said. “That shooter and those like him, they’re not going to get paroled under this bill. That’s not what it does and I can’t imagine any parole board hearing the facts of a case like that and letting the killer out.”
The hearing was not the only Santa Fe-related thing to happen in the capital Wednesday
Earlier in the day, the Texas Senate approved a one-time $100 million appropriation to pay for security upgrades at schools. The money would pay for things like video cameras, metal detectors, shooter alarms and bullet-proof glass.
HALLISEY DEFENDS COASTAL BARRIER
During Tuesday’s city council meeting, League City Mayor Pat Hallisey launched an unprompted defense of the coastal barrier system proposed for the Texas coast.
Hallisey said he was screaming at his copy of The Daily News on March 2, when he read about a group of people organized to oppose the Army Corps of Engineers plan to build seawalls and floodgates on Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula.
“It’s an imperfect world, but as we do something, it sure beats those that want to do nothing,” Hallisey said.
The corps plan would protect communities around Galveston Bay from storm surge like that occurring during Hurricane Ike in 2008, Hallisey said. But he acknowledged it wouldn’t prevent the kind of flooding that happened during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Hallisey was surprised to see the number of “heavyweights” who had lined up to oppose the barrier plan, and indicated he still supported the idea, he said.
“Please don’t give up on it,” Hallisey said.
One of the bills state Sen. Larry Taylor filed as the deadline approached in the Legislature last week is SB 1453, which would allow high schoolers to use smart phone applications instead of graphing calculators for coursework. ... In 2014, 93 percent of graphing calculators were sold by Dallas-based Texas Instruments, according to The Washington Post. ... There are 51 days until the May 4 local elections. Early voting begins on April 22. ... There are 76 days remaining in the Texas Legislative session.