Judge accused of bias in Santa Fe High School shooter case

HOUSTON – The defense team for accused Santa Fe shooter Dimitrios Pagourtzis is asking the judge overseeing the case to be removed due to what they claim is bias.

Defense lawyers argue that Pagourtzis was deemed incompetent to stand trial multiple times from 2019 to 2023. However, they claim the judge is trying to push the case forward without looking at all the medical records.

Pagourtzis is charged with killing 10 people at Santa Fe High School in 2018. He was found incompetent to stand trial in 2019 and sent to North Texas State Hospital, where doctors have been attempting to restore his competency.

Court documents state Pagourtzis “had not been restored to competency during the respective periods.”

According to a motion to recuse filed by defense attorney Nick Poehl, Judge Jeth Jones called for a meeting between the state and defense without a court reporter in January.

“Judge Jones indicated it was his intention to appoint new experts at to-be-determined intervals to conduct competency evaluations at county expense, presumably until such time as an expert provided a report indicating that Defendant was restored to competency,” the filing continues to state, “Judge Jones also indicated that he would look ‘across the country‘ if necessary for experts.”

Pagourtiz’s attorney argued, “the Defense had been advised by multiple experts that the likelihood of competency restoration becomes increasingly unlikely if a Defendant cannot be restored to competency within the first 12 to 18 months of commitment and treatment. Judge Jones responded to Poehl that he (Judge Jones) thought that Poehl was wrong, and that Defendant would be found competent.”

Poehl’s motion states Judge Jones contacted the Superintendent of the facility, James Smith, requesting an evaluation of the defendant.

“NTSH Vernon Superintendent James Smith has since confirmed that this evaluation of Defendant took place at the specific request of Judge Jones, and while the final report is still being drafted, the conclusion of the report was that Defendant remains incompetent to stand trial,” the court filing shows. “At no time has the Court shared with the parties the details or even confirmed that any correspondence or contact has taken place between the Court and Superintendent Smith.”

While pushing back at a hearing on March 10, the defense pointed to the evaluation conducted at the request of the court. Adding, “but the Court cut the Defense off. The Court then appointed a new ‘disinterested’ expert.”

A shackled Dimitrios Pagourtzis is walked into a courtroom in Galveston County, Texas, on Feb. 25, 2019. (KPRC)

Another topic at hand deals with the venue of the hearing. Judge Jones indicated the court may try to move the case back to Galveston County from Fort Bend County, a previously agreed-upon location.

Records show, “The Defense believes that Judge Jones’ actions in the March 10, 2023 hearing, when viewed in conjunction with those earlier statements and the Court’s attempts to hide the fact that the Court successfully persuaded NTSH Vernon to perform a full competency evaluation by an outside expert, further serve to undermine confidence in the Court’s impartiality with regard to the issue of Defendant’s competency, as well as to other issues such as the venue.”

The motion further reads, “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 the Defendant being found competent.”

Dimitrios Pagourtzis faces charges of capital murder of multiple persons and aggravated assault against a public servant following a mass shooting at Santa Fe High School this year. (Galveston County Sheriff's Office)

The defense team believes “Judge Jeth Jones has demonstrated a bias or prejudice against him in violation of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Dimitrios Pagourtzis requests that the Court grant this Motion and recuse itself from the present causes.”

Officials at the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office tell KPRC 2 Investigator Robert Arnold they plan to oppose the motion.


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About the Authors:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”

As an Emmy award-winning journalist, Jason strives to serve the community by telling in-depth stories and taking on challenges many pass over. When he’s not working, he’s spending time with his girlfriend Rosie, and dog named Dug.