HOUSTON (AP) — An 18-year-old accused of fatally shooting 10 people at a Texas high school will now be facing 11 federal charges connected to the attack, his attorney said.
But it’s unclear what those new charges are because the federal case against Greek-American Dimitrios Pagourtzis is sealed as a result of him being a minor when the shooting took place last year. The charges come after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas had previously said it would not be pursuing a case against Pagourtzis, who already is charged in state court.
Pagourtzis was taken into federal custody Monday, April 8, and appeared in court later in the day in Galveston.
One of his attorneys, Nick Poehl, said the federal court hearing was closed to the public because that court system considers his client a minor because he was 17 years old when he was arrested.
Pagourtzis has been charged with capital murder in state court for the May 18, 2018, shooting at Santa Fe High School. Authorities say he killed eight students and two teachers and wounded 13 other people when he opened fire inside the school about 55 miles (88 kilometers) southeast of Houston.
Last month, the U.S. attorney’s office, which is in Houston, said no federal charges would likely be filed in the shooting.
“Something changed and I don’t know what it is,” Poehl said.
U.S. attorney’s office spokeswoman Angela Dodge, in an email, declined to comment on the case, saying her office would not “have any information to provide in the near future.”
In state court, Pagourtzis, who also is charged with aggravated assault against a public servant, is being tried as an adult but will not be eligible for the death penalty because he was 17 when charged.
Poehl said he has been told that authorities plan to certify Pagourtzis as an adult in federal court.
Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady said the new federal charges could possibly delay the state’s case against Pagourtzis but his office will still be proceeding with the state charges.
The federal charges come after many of the families and friends of those killed and injured in the shooting called, emailed and spoke to local, state and federal officials imploring them to ask federal prosecutors to reconsider their decision.
During a news conference Monday afternoon, family members of those killed in the shooting and many of the injured expressed gratitude that federal charges were filed.
“We don’t know exactly what happened in the interim. But apparently the right foot got in the right butt down there in D.C. And whoever’s that foot was, I want to thank them personally. … We all appreciate that,” said John Barnes, a school resource officer who was shot in the arm.
The families and friends of those killed and injured say they wanted the federal charges filed to ensure that Pagourtzis is never released from prison. If convicted of capital murder in state court, he could be eligible for parole after 40 years.
But Poehl said prosecutors can’t stack the cases against Pagourtzis in such a way to deny him the possibility of parole.
“He would be parole eligible at some point,” Poehl said. “It doesn’t mean he has to get parole.”
A hearing is still set for May 10 for a judge to announce where the trial on the state charges will be moved. Pagourtzis’ attorneys were granted a request to have his trial moved to another county to ensure an objective jury pool.
By JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press