GALVESTON — Attorneys representing Dimitrios Pagourtzis want an independent psychiatrist to determine whether he’s competent to stand trial in the shooting deaths of 10 people and injury of more than a dozen at Santa Fe High School last year.
The attorneys argue Pagourtzis’ mental health has been questionable from the start and has declined to an extent that he’s unable to comprehend the legal proceedings underway against him.
An evaluation of Pagourtzis’ mental health could delay a trial on state capital murder charges set to begin early next year.
Pagourtzis’ attorneys filed a motion Monday seeking the evaluation.
The documents claim that since the day of his arrest, Pagourtzis has “shown signs of mental illness” and that he lacks the acuity to consult with his attorneys.
“Mr. Pagourtzis’ mental state has fluctuated, and more recently deteriorated,” said Nick Poehl, a defense attorney, in an affidavit regarding Pagourtzis’ competency.
“His mental state has degraded to the point where there is no understanding of the matter and the proceedings,” Poehl said in the affidavit.
Defense experts already had evaluated Pagourtzis and experts working for the prosecutors were doing so now, Poehl said in an interview Monday.
The defense wants Pagourtzis evaluated by an expert independent of the two sides, he said.
Asking for a competency hearing is not the same as pleading insanity, Poehl said.
An insanity defense is about a person’s mental state at the time a crime is committed, Poehl said.
“Competency is about your ability to stand trial,” Poehl said. “He’s deteriorated and it’s not at all evident he understands what’s going on.”
Pagourtzis is accused of killing 10 people inside Santa Fe High School on May 18, 2018. He is charged with capital murder of multiple persons and of aggravated assault against a public servant.
The public servant in the latter charge is Santa Fe Independent School District Police officer John Barnes, who was one of 13 people injured during the shooting, prosecutors said.
Pagourtzis was arrested inside the high school May 18 and has been in custody, segregated from other inmates in the Galveston County Jail, ever since, officials said.
The Galveston County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment Monday afternoon. Poehl didn’t expect prosecutors to oppose his motion.
If Pagourtzis were judged incompetent, he might be transferred to a state mental health facility to receive treatment for six months before being reevaluated, Poehl said.
That would delay his trial, which is scheduled to begin in February in Fort Bend County.
Pagourtzis’ fate could ultimately be tied to whether he’s also ruled incompetent to stand trial for 11 federal charges leveled against him in April. Those charges are sealed, because Pagourtzis, under federal law, was considered to be a minor when the shooting happened.
Pagourtzis is being represented by a federal public defender. It’s unclear whether that attorney also is asking for a competency hearing.