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.

NOTEBOOK

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.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

Senior Reporter

(5) comments

Carlos Ponce

House Bill 256 Text:
https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/86R/billtext/html/HB00256I.htm
The Santa Fe shooter shot 23 people of which 10 were killed.
Eligible for parole after 40 years is unthinkable for this crime, eligible after 20 years is not good. A person found guilty of this crime should be locked away for the rest of his life. Why do they call it a "life sentence" when it's not? If passed the survivors will have to testify at the 20 year mark reliving the horrific events of May 18, 2018 in order to keep him locked away. This murderer will be 37 years old - 57 under current law.
The author of this bill is Democrat Joseph Moody representing Texas’s District 78 which is much of northern El Paso County. "He’s currently a managing partner at the firm of Moody & Sahualla in El Paso, which focuses on criminal defense and criminal appellate law."
https://www.house.texas.gov/members/member-page/?district=78
This bill deserves no consideration. I urge the Texas House to vote "NO".

Gary Scoggin

It would be interesting to hear Reps Bonnen and Middleton’s views on this bill. Perhaps the GDN could reach out to them.

Jose' Boix

Gary, I agree with you - even the timing for such proposal is terrible. And, again, we should remind our Legislators to re-focus on the many MUST significant issues to work and resolve. Just my thoughts!

Jose' Boix

In the midst of all the significant issues regarding education funding and others, is this really a must needed directive by our central government: "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."
A couple of considerations: 1. Let our local ISDs manage the use of "smart phones." In many classrooms and ISDs, they are already controlled and in some cases not allowed; and, 2. It TI "controls" a large percentage of graphing calculators, isn't Apple the one that has control of must Smart Phones? Let's direct our Legislators to maintain focus on MUST resolve issues. Just my thoughts!

George Croix

Thanks to Rep. Joseph Moody (D - El Paso) for recognizing that young people are less developed, and telling the rest of us so we'll know.

As a return of that favor, I'd like to pass along to Rep. Moody that the capital crimes victims of these less developed youngsters will be permanently less developed, as their development stopped when they were killed.
Just thought you should know.

You're welcome.............

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