Families fear more delays in Texas school shooting case

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — Family members of those killed and injured during a facing allegations of bias and prior legal ties to the defendant.
“We don’t even have any confidence we’re ever going to trial at this point,” said Scot Rice, whose wife Flo, was one of 23 people shot and injured during the attack at Santa Fe High School on May 18, 2018.
Scot and Flo Rice, who was a substitute teacher, spoke after a court hearing over motions filed by lawyers for incompetent to stand trial.
Pagourtzis has been charged with capital murder. Eight students and two teachers were killed at the school, located about 35 miles (55 kilometers) southeast of Houston. Another 13 people were injured.
Attorneys representing Pagourtzis have accused Jeth Jones, the judge who has been handling the case since January, of bias for pushing to have experts deem the former student competent to stand trial.
“We are not here just because I don’t like Judge Jones’ rulings. We are here because his actions and rulings show a bias toward my client,” said Nicholas Poehl, one of Pagourtzis’ attorneys.
Pagourtzis’ lawyers said they believe Jones is determined to find experts who will conclude their client is competent to stand trial.
His lawyers are also asking that Jones be disqualified because they allege that Jared Robinson, his former partner in a law firm, briefly represented Pagourtzis when he was first arrested. They argue that under state law, Jones would be disqualified from the case because he had a legal connection to Pagourtzis by way of his law firm partner.
Prosecutors argued Thursday that Jones should not be removed from the case.
Galveston County District Attorneys Jack Roady said Jones has not done anything wrong as his role as a judge includes being involved in the process to determine if Pagourtzis is competent to stand trial.
Roady also said the claims Jones should be disqualified because of prior legal ties to Pagourtzis have no merit. He said while Jones’ former law partner did meet with Pagourtzis on the day of the shooting, he was never hired and declined to take on the case.
But Robert Barfield testified during Thursday’s hearing that Jones’ law partner was briefly part of Pagourtzis’ legal team and gave the accused shooter legal advice that would be considered confidential and would have established an attorney-client relationship.
Earlier this month, Jones declined to disqualify himself, referring the request to Susan Brown, who is the presiding judge over the six-county region that includes Galveston County.
During Thursday’s hearing, Brown seemed to indicate Pagourtzis’ attorneys would likely not prevail on their motion to recuse Jones over his actions regarding competency. But she asked for more information on whether the judge’s former law partner did represent Pagourtzis.
Brown made no rulings but indicated she would likely hold another hearing next month.
Family members of those killed or wounded have expressed frustration the case has not gone to trial. They say part of their frustration comes from not having been given access to evidence in the case, including autopsy reports and surveillance footage, that could provide more information on their loved ones’ final moments.
A bill has been filed in the current session of the state Legislature that would give crime victims’ families access to such evidence without making it public before a trial.
Rosie Yanas Stone, whose 17-year-old son Chris, was killed in the shooting said after Thursday’s hearing she has been happy with Jones because he has sought answers on the issue of Pagourtzis’ competency. She fears his removal would cause more delays in family members’ efforts to get answers to what happened to their loved ones.
“Not knowing nothing is just horrible for us,” Rosie Stone said. ___ Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at https://twitter.com/juanlozano70.