On Wednesday, attorneys for the young man charged in the mass shooting that killed 10 people inside Santa Fe High School learned he would not face a jury of his Galveston County peers.

The change in venue was approved by Judge John Ellisor of the 122nd District Court. A written ruling on the motion is expected to be released soon.

Dimitrios 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 event.

Change of venues are relatively rare, generally employed when either party feels the pool of potential candidates will not be able to make a decision without the pollution or distraction of other factors. In this case, the defense pointed to comments made on local news media and social media.

There are several points to consider in this decision to move the trial.

First, the law states the accused is to face a jury of his peers. Theoretically, this ensures both the accused and jurists share similar values, perspectives and judgments. In this case, the accused will now face a jury of people who may never have set foot in Galveston County or share the down-to-earth values of the community.

If the law is to have the accused judged by those who share similar backgrounds and values, a change of venue does not support this objective to the best of intentions.

Secondly, a change of venue will drive up the taxpayers’ costs as attorneys and support personnel are now going to be working from a location outside the borders of Galveston County. Conducting any trial is not an inexpensive affair — and one of this nature will certainly consume countless hours and resources.

Local District Attorney Jack Roady and team will find defending the state’s case on the road a substantially more expensive proposition — and therefore more expensive for Galveston County taxpayers.

By moving the trial away from the pool of original peers, an expensive insult is being added to the injury of not allowing local citizens the opportunity to proudly perform their civic duty.

And finally, the ruling effectively removes Galveston County residents from the opportunity to locally determine the way forward in the process of issuing justice and future recovery.

The shooting was nothing short of a tragedy, but to say the people of Galveston County are unable to make a reasonable and fair judgment is insulting.

The judge might have approved the change of venue in hopes of eliminating the potential grounds for which an appeal could be filed. We get that.

But in the end, Galveston County residents are being told they are not qualified to make fair decisions about events occurring in their own community. And to many, that is only adding insult to injury.

• Leonard Woolsey

Leonard Woolsey: 409-683-5207; leonard.woolsey@galvnews.com

President & Publisher

(10) comments

Rusty Schroeder

Leonard you would have to eliminate 99% of Santa Fe from the jury pool, don't believe me, just look at some of the comments on social media groups. SF Strong was posted everywhere in this county from schools to businesses, people have a pretty strong opinion on the shooting. I doubt you could find 10% of the people in Galveston County that didn't have an opinion or not heard of May 18. I was hoping for it to stay in County, but figured the defense would argue against it because of a biased jury pool. This way, that equation is out of the picture for an appeal after the verdict is delivered. I think that is what Judge Ellisor based a percentage of his ruling on, that and some of the things said on social media. For the families I hope it is close, like say Bay City, Angleton, or Columbus at the farthest. Social Media is to blame for this change of venue, not a Judge. rs

Carlos Ponce

Guilt or innocence is not in question. All surviving witnesses - students, faculty, police will testify as to his guilt. Video and forensics will also point to his guilt. Defense attorneys will try to portray the killer as a "victim" of bullying. There is no death penalty for 17 year olds due to the Supreme Court decision in Roper v. Simmons. In the end he will be locked away, hopefully for a long time with no chance of parole. The case could be tried anywhere in the State of Texas with the same results if the trial were held in Galveston County - guilty as charged.

Mark Stevens

Leonard....Can we disagree and still be civil? It's one thing to disagree with Judge Ellisor's decision. It is another to accuse him of "insulting" the people of this county. To look at it another way, the people of another county might be "insulted" by your suggestion that they cannot be as fair and responsible as jurors must be under the law. Also, the suggestion that jurors drawn from Galveston County contains the notion that such jurors have some kind of emotional interest in the out come--which Is exactly what you should not have in any juror in any trial--civil or criminal.
There will never be a happy ending to this tragedy. But it might be made worse if justice itself is a casualty. Justice, as they say, must be seen to be done.

Mark W. Stevens

Rusty Schroeder

Hey Mark, do you return phone calls ?

Paula Flinn

I agree with Mark Stevens. The removal should not be taken as an insult to anyone.

Doug Sivyer

Don't waste the tax payers money on a trial. The sick bas- - - - did it. Lock him up for life and throw away the key.

Gary Scoggin

Are there any other parts of the Constitution you want to throw out while we're at it?

George Croix

The eternal conflict between what we'd like to do, and what we should do.
Fairness and justice are considered synonyms, but I'm not so sure that's always the case.....

George Croix

This IS the opinion section, and all such are welcome.
Having largely abandoned due process at the national level, will liberals now abandon even the notion of a fair trial at the local?
There's ZERO chance that a jury from this County could be seated that could keep a straight face when asked in voir dire if they could be impartial.
Heck, I personally see no reason in this case for anything other than the Chinese method, but we don't live in China...
My favorite part was the spin on the jury of one's peers thing......
By that reasoning a guy from Butte committing murder in Harris County should be shipped back to Montana for trial....
The expense part was also interesting, worried about the County's expenses for trial at distance while routinely advocating for a plethora of expenses that should not even take place....
But, that's just my opinion, just like it's Leonard's opinion....each no better or worse, because they ARE opinions....

Michael Guarino

I want to take this opportunity to support Judge Ellisor’s decision to change venue in this most serious and tragic case. He is one of the finest and fairest judges I have ever had the privilege of practicing before in my 45 year career as a lawyer. Even though I was asked to and did provide the state with an affidavit stating that I felt the defendant could receive a fair trial in Galveston County, it was the responsibility of the judge to hear and review all of the evidence at the change of venue hearing and rule in the interest of justice and fairness. I trust Judge Ellisor’s judgement on this matter and know he based his decision on the evidence before him. While I was Galveston County Criminal District I participated in a handful of change of venue cases and realized then and now they were necessary to impanel a fair and impartial jury. We are fortunate to have a judge in this case who is conscientious in seeing that goal achieved. The cost involved in a change of venue case is a price we pay to ensure this fairness. The judge’s decision was not an insult to anyone.

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