GALVESTON — The trial of the teenager accused in the Santa Fe High School shooting will begin next January in Richmond, the Fort Bend County seat.
State District Judge John Ellisor announced the location Friday, four months after he granted a change of venue motion filed by the defense attorney for Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 18, charged with capital murder in the shooting that killed 10 people and wounded 13 in May 2018.
By choosing Fort Bend County, Ellisor said he was balancing the defense’s concern that Pagourtzis would not receive a fair trial in Galveston County with the desire to accommodate family members and others who want to attend.
“It’s 77 miles from this courthouse door to their courthouse door,” Ellisor said. “There is a county that sits between us, but they have agreed to let us come try the case there.”
Ellisor will preside over the case. Jack Roady, the Galveston County district attorney, retains jurisdiction as prosecutor.
A docket control order was also set for Pagourtzis’ trial. Jury selection will begin Jan. 23, 2020. Opening statements are scheduled to begin Feb. 18. The trial is expected to last four to six weeks, and will include at least 23 prosecution witnesses.
Nick Poehl, Pagourtzis’ attorney, said he would have preferred the trial to be moved farther away than Fort Bend County, which is within the Houston media market.
Poehl had argued that a fair trial in Galveston County would be unlikely due to rampant media coverage and comments county residents posted on Facebook that indicated a strong bias against the defendant.
“Let me put it this way, we are not displeased,” Poehl said. “There are challenges. There’s an open question whether that’s enough distance. But we can’t solve every problem. It’s a good start and I hope that we will be able to get a fair jury there.”
Roady, who argued against the venue change, did not comment after the hearing and could not be reached afterwards.
Roady had cited the scarce details provided about the May 18 shooting by local law enforcement and the Santa Fe Independent School District to counter the defense’s assertion that publicity had affected the impartiality of potential jurors.
Pagourtzis, who watched the proceedings Friday via livestream from Galveston County Jail, has continued to undergo psychological evaluations while in custody, Poehl said. He is being held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.
The prosecution recently asked to do its own psychological evaluation of Pagourtzis in anticipation of a possible insanity plea. The defense did not object, and Ellisor signed the order June 5. The prosecution’s experts will continue to evaluate Pagourtzis for at least another month.
Poehl said the defense has not “locked in” on Pagourtzis using an insanity plea, and has not given the prosecution any formal indication of intent do so.
Relatives of the shooting victims and survivors have attended most of the public hearings on Pagourtzis’ case. Many had expressed hope that the trial would stay in Galveston County.
But the move to Fort Bend County was largely seen as a positive, close enough for the families.
Sonia Lopez, whose daughter, Sarah Salazar, was seriously wounded during the shooting and finally discharged from the hospital Friday, said she was “very satisfied” the trial is only a bit more than an hour’s drive from her home in Santa Fe.
“I’m very satisfied that it’s going to be close to us,” Lopez said. “I was a little anxious because I didn’t know if they were going to move it out of state