Lawyers Seek Removal of Judge in Texas School Shooting Case

NBC 5 News

Attorneys for a man accused of fatally shooting 10 people at a Texas high school in 2018 are seeking to have the judge handling the case removed, accusing him of bias for pushing to have experts deem the former student competent to stand trial.

Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 22, has been at the North Texas State Hospital in Vernon since early December 2019 after he was determined to be incompetent to stand trial.

Pagourtzis, then a 17-year-old student, has been charged with capital murder for the attack at Santa Fe High School on May 18, 2018, when he was a student there. Eight students and two teachers were killed at the school, located about 35 miles (55 kilometers) southeast of Houston.

In February, state District Judge Jeth Jones ordered Pagourtzis to be held at the hospital for up to another year.

But last week, Jones held a last-minute hearing in which he ordered Pagourtzis to be evaluated by an outside expert to determine his competency.

In their motion Tuesday to recuse Jones, Pagourtzis' lawyers said they believe Jones is determined to find experts who will conclude their client is competent to stand trial and that the judge indicated he could appoint a new expert on a weekly basis.

In the recusal motion, attorney Nicholas Poehl wrote that Jones expressed during a Jan. 26 meeting that doctors and staff at the state hospital “might not care to see” Pagourtzis restored to competency so that he can be tried.

In a statement, Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady, whose office is prosecuting Pagourtzis, said he opposes the motion to remove the judge.

Jones' office did not return a call or email seeking comment Wednesday. The judge told the Houston Chronicle he could not comment on the motion and had referred it to Susan Brown, the presiding judge over the six-county region that includes Galveston County. Brown could handle the motion herself or appoint another judge to hear it. No court hearings have been scheduled on the motion.

Jones took over the case after being elected in November.

The motion alleges that after ordering Pagourtzis to be hospitalized for another year, the judge secretly asked the state hospital to perform another competency evaluation, which found that Pagourtzis remained incompetent.

Jones then held a hearing last week in which he ordered an evaluation from an outside expert.

The judge's recent actions come as family members of those killed or wounded have expressed frustration the case has not gone to trial. They also say they have not been given access to evidence in the case, including autopsy reports and surveillance footage, that could provide more information on their loved ones' final moments. A bill has been filed in the current session of the state Legislature that would give crime victims' families access to such evidence without making it public.

"Judge Jones' proposed scheme appears to be designed to either create the appearance to the public as if the Court is doing something or to eventually arrive at the specific result of … (Pagourtzis) being found competent," Poehl wrote.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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