A few weeks ago, news broke that Dimitrios Pagourtzis has some serious mental issues and will likely not be facing a trial in 2020 for killing 10 people and injuring 13 during a mass shooting at Santa Fe High School.
The news brought the expected outrage from Santa Fe, an area still healing 18 months after the tragic events many of us will never forget.
Like virtually everyone, I want Pagourtzis to face a jury of his peers and I want the news of exactly what happened that day to come out. Ultimately, I want him to be found guilty and sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars. Because frankly, if everything we’ve heard is true and there’s no reason to doubt it is, that’s what he deserves.
But I also want it done right.
Our criminal justice system is set up so that those charged with crimes must be mentally aware of the legal proceedings and must be able to assist their lawyers in their own defense. Three separate psychiatrists, representing the defense, the prosecution and the court, all agree Pagourtzis has enough mental issues that he cannot do that. So in that case, our system does not allow a case to move forward until a defendant has been treated and is deemed well enough to meet the threshold of being competent.
So to my understanding, Pagourtzis is now getting the help he needs. By working with psychiatrists and getting medication, the hope is Pagourtzis can regain some mental stability and the case can ultimately move forward.
A few thoughts on this. No. 1, being found mentally incompetent to stand trial does not mean one was insane at the time of the act. Personally, I think anyone who can indiscriminately open fire on his classmates is likely insane, but most of the time not at the legal level required to find someone not guilty.
To my understanding, to be found insane at a trial, a person must be so mentally unfit at the time of the crime that they literally do not understand the difference between right and wrong and do not understand what they did was in fact wrong.
Clearly Pagourtzis had some mental issues that day. But mental issues does not equate insanity. And in Texas it is very difficult to use and prove an insanity defense. His lawyers may ultimately try that tactic and I wouldn’t blame them, but it will be very difficult to convince 12 people he didn’t know what he was doing was wrong.
No. 2, Pagourtzis is not faking it to delay his trial and get out of jail. Three psychiatrists, all well-trained and very good at what they do, examined and talked to Pagourtzis.
If only the defense doctor determined he was mentally unfit, I would buy the argument that he’s faking.
But in this case, the doctor representing the prosecution and another neutral doctor representing the court also deemed he was incompetent. Pagourtzis could not fool all three. In fact, the doctor representing the prosecution likely was attempting to prove he was competent. If that doctor comes back with a finding that says otherwise, there’s little doubt Pagourtzis’ mental state is eroding.
And frankly, that’s no surprise. For 18 months he’s had to live with what he did. He has likely lived in solitary confinement, most days seeing no one but jailers. He gets very little free time, almost no visitors other than his attorneys, very little time outside of his box and very little mental stimulation. That’s a lot of time to sit and think.
If someone already had mental issues, and I believe he did, those circumstances would easily make their mental state erode and erode quickly.
I have no doubt Pagourtzis is mentally incompetent, and now he will receive treatment and medication in an attempt to change that. He will not be freed, he will not escape judgement. It’s a delay and it’s a delay that’s legal and proper. Dimitrios Pagourtzis will still answer for his actions on May 18, 2018. It’s just a matter of when.