Dimitrios Pagourtzis will not face a Galveston County jury if and when he stands trial for capital murder over the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School in May last year.
Judge John Ellisor, of the 122nd District Court, on Wednesday informed attorneys that Pagourtzis’ trial would be moved to a jurisdiction outside of Galveston County. A written ruling on the motion is expected by Friday, officials said.
Pagourtzis is charged with capital murder of multiple persons and aggravated assault of a public servant and has been held without bond since his arrest on May 18, 2018.
He is accused of killing 10 people inside Santa Fe High School, and of shooting Santa Fe Independent School District police officer John Barnes.
Thirteen other people were injured in the shooting.
The decision to change a venue is rare, and typically is reserved for cases in which the court believes a defendant cannot receive a fair trial in the jurisdiction where the crime happened.
Pagourtzis’ attorneys filed a motion for a change of venue in January, and attorneys argued for and against the motion in front of Ellisor on Monday.
During that hearing, Pagourtzis attorneys compared his case to the trials of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and serial killer Ted Bundy, both of whom were granted changes of venue.
The attorneys argued the publicity around the shooting had created a situation in which Pagourtzis could not get a fair trial in Galveston County.
As evidence of prejudice, the defense pointed to comments made on local news sites and social media pages.
Nick Poehl, Pagourtzis’ defense attorney, said Ellisor’s decision would allow the trial to start from neutral territory.
“We’re very pleased with the decision and looking forward to finding out where we might go,” Poehl said. “The judge made the right decision.”
Ellisor has not decided where the trial will be held. That decision is not expected to be announced until the next hearing in the case, which is not scheduled until May.
While the trial will be moved, Galveston prosecutors will still present the state’s case against Pagourtzis, District Attorney Jack Roady said.
“We are ready to try this case wherever it needs to be tried,” Roady said.
The news of Ellisor’s decision reached the families of shooting victims by late Wednesday afternoon.
Sonia Lopez, whose daughter Sarah Salazar was shot and injured during the shooting, said she hoped the trial would be held as close as possible to Galveston County. But she believed Ellisor made a decision that was in the interests of holding a fair trial, she said.
“We’re willing to support the judge and the decision that was made,” Lopez said.
Pagourtzis faces up to life in prison. Because he was 17 at the time of the shootings, he cannot receive the death penalty.
No trial date has been set.