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