A defense request to have Judge Jeth Jones removed from the case involving the Santa Fe mass sh**ting was granted on Monday afternoon. Lawyers for the accused Santa Fe sh**ter, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, submitted a move to disqualify Jones last month on the grounds that Jones had already been involved in the case and was, therefore, ineligible to preside over it.
Defense lawyers argued that before Jones was appointed as a judge, he shared an office with a lawyer who had a meeting with the alleged sh**ter on the day of the sh**ting. Although that lawyer—who is now a judge—did not take the case, defense lawyers claimed there was still enough of a link to Jones to raise the possibility of a conflict.
“We’re pleased with Judge Brown’s ruling granting our Motion to Disqualify Judge Jones. Our foremost duty is to protect Mr. Pagourtzis’s constitutional right to a fair trial, should he ever be restored to competency, and today’s ruling will help us do that. Nobody is pleased with how long this case is taking, but even worse than a long case would be having to try it twice because a disqualified judge presided over it,” defense attorney Nick Poehl wrote in a statement to KPRC 2.
Judge Lonnie Cox will now oversee the case going forward, according to a notification sent to family members by the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office. A copy of that notification was shared by family members to KPRC 2.
“This afternoon, Judge Brown signed an order granting the Defendant’s Motion to Disqualify Judge Jones. She has assigned the case to Judge Lonnie Cox, in the 56th District Court. We’re disappointed to lose Judge Jones, but we believe that Judge Cox will handle the case fairly and efficiently. He is known for making decisive rulings that are fair to all parties, and he has for many years maintained the lowest docket caseload in Galveston County,” the notification from District Attorney Jack Roady read.
In 2019 Pagourtzis was initially found incapable of standing trial. He was sent to North Texas State Hospital, where medical professionals are working to help him regain his competency.
The case against Pagourtzis is indefinitely suspended pending the restoration of his competency. Because of this, the relatives of the Santa Fe victims have been putting pressure on politicians for more than four years to create a law giving them access to specific pieces of evidence.
“All our eggs are in this basket because I don’t see a future trial and if I do, it’s two to three years out,” said Scot Rice, whose wife, Flo, was critically wounded during the sh**ting.
The House and Senate, however, have now approved various versions of this legislation. In order to see if a consensus can be established, the legislation will now go to a conference committee.
The law, which enables family members access to certain pieces of evidence like autopsy reports and police body-cam videos, was first introduced by State Sen. Mayes Middleton. The bill permits the district attorneys to demand that anyone viewing the evidence sign non-disclosure agreements and forbids the recording or duplication of the data.
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Initially inclusive of thousands of families of crime victims, Middleton’s bill was broad. The bill’s breadth was significantly reduced in the last hours of the process to cover Santa Fe victims’ families virtually solely. The Senate approved that version in April.
The law’s final language will need to be worked out in committee if the Senate doesn’t agree with the House version after the House passed it over the weekend. State Rep. Greg Bonnen filed the bill, which was expanded. According to Rhonda Hart, the Santa Fe lawsuit is stuck. Hence this statute is necessary.
“We’re at a dead end, we need to start thinking, ‘OK, what is our other option?’” said Hart.
Kimberly Vaughan, the daughter of Hart, d!ed in the sh**ting. The autopsy report for Hart’s daughter is something she has requested.
“It would let me know if Kimberly had passed quickly or if it was long and drawn out, that would really bring me some kind of peace and quiet,” said Hart.
Below is a tweet about A defense motion to have the presiding judge disqualified from handling the Santa Fe mass shooting case that was granted Monday afternoon, according to court documents. You can see below:
A defense motion to have the presiding judge disqualified from handling the Santa Fe mass shooting case was granted Monday afternoon, according to court documents. https://t.co/7RmVoka5IW
— KPRC 2 Houston (@KPRC2) May 8, 2023
Rice expressed his expectation that the body cam video would clear up any confusion regarding what happened when and how on the day of the incident.
“Flo and Ann Perkins are the only two, besides Officer Barnes, that knows there’s video of them being shot. So it’s going to be hard to watch. But I think I need to see. And I think I need to process it beforehand,” said Rice. “Personally, I want to know how he got in, there’s so many rumors, people have said it happened this way, he got in that way. And I want to see it.”