On Monday morning, federal officials arrived at the Galveston County Jail with almost no prior notice to bring Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the man indicted on state charges for the May 18, 2018, Santa Fe High School shooting that left 10 people dead and 13 injured, away to appear before a federal court judge.
The move came as a complete surprise to everyone after federal authorities told victims’ families in March that federal charges would not be pursued and had confirmed this stance as late as April 5 to Pagourtzis’ legal team. Pagourtzis’ lawyers barely had time to speak with him before he was taken away.
“We found out about half an hour before they showed up to pick him up and as recently as Friday we had been told that the feds were not planning to file federal charges and we are not — at this point still not sure exactly what changed and why that wasn’t the case,” Nicholas Poehl, one of Pagourtzis’ attorneys, said.
Rosie Y. Stone, whose son Chris Stone was killed in the shooting, said she was glad to see the federal government stepping up and changing its mind so soon after saying charges would not be filed, though she said she did not know what or who was responsible for the sudden change.
“I’m very happy. I think it’s a good step moving forward,” Stone said.
There is belief by many that federal charges could prevent Pagourtzis from ever being eligible for parole.
Under state law due to Pagourtzis having been a minor at the time of the crime, he is facing a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 40 years.
This is why many victims’ families were upset at federal authorities initially stated decision of not pursuing charges, and pleased to see the development on Monday after the federal authorities’ sudden change.
Poehl, however, doesn’t believe federal charges will be able to circumvent Pagourtzis’ parole eligibility.
“It always seemed to us like the feds really did not have a dog in the fight. It wasn’t worth the expenditure of resources just to charge him with more cases in which he could get time that he was already facing. We believe that part of the issue is some kind of a mistaken belief — at least as we understand the law at the time — is the mistaken belief by the families that with federal charges they could somehow stack the sentences to where he never — never has any parole eligibility whatsoever, but that’s not accurate, we don’t think, because the Supreme Court case law that controls this issue says you cannot give — you cannot give a sentence to a minor that would not give him parole eligibility. You can give him a life sentence, but not without the possibility of parole,” Poehl said.
The exact federal charges Pagourtzis is facing have not been revealed. Although he is now 18, because Pagourtzis was 17 when the shooting occurred, he is being treated as a minor. Under federal law, extreme secrecy is practiced when minors are involved.
After meeting the federal judge Monday, Pagourtzis was returned to the Galveston County Jail.