Texas School Shooting Suspect Won’t Face Death Penalty

Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the 17-year old accused of committing the recent shooting in a Santa Fe high school that left 10 people dead, will not face the death penalty if he is convicted. He would also be eligible for parole after 40 years in prison. This is because of two Supreme Court decisions. The first, made in 2005, deemed sentencing juvenile offenders to death as unconstitutional. The second, made in 2012, determined that sentencing juvenile defenders to life in prison without parole was also unconstitutional.

Robert Barfield, the attorney for Dimitrios Pagourtzis, told CNN: “The way it works is there’s only one possibility, if he is found guilty. It’s life in prison with the possibility of parole because of his age.” However, Robert Dunham of the Death Penalty Information Center told CNN that Pagourtzis only has the chance to apply for parole after 40 years, and may not actually have parole granted to him.

In 2005, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, found that executing someone under the age of 18 violated both the eighth and fourteenth amendments. The eight amendment protects citizens from cruel and unusual punishment, while the fourteenth amendment guarantees equal protection under the law for all US citizens. Justice Kennedy, who wrote for the majority in the decision, stated: “When a juvenile offender commits a heinous crime, the State can exact forfeiture of some of the most basic liberties, but the State cannot extinguish his life and his potential to attain a mature understanding of his own humanity.”

Meanwhile, it was a 2013 Texas law that prohibited sentencing a minor to life without the possibility of parole. The state passed the law after another Supreme Court decision made in the case of Miller v. Alabama in 2012. The decision, which was passed again with a 5-4 majority, found that sentencing minors to life in prison without the possibility of parole also violated the eighth amendment. Texas law requires a minimum of forty years in prison before the possibility of parole, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

According to a report from CNN, Pagourtzis allegedly killed 10 people (eight students, and two teachers) and wounded 13 others using a .38 revolver and a shotgun. In addition to the guns, possible explosive devices were also found on the school grounds. After testing, some of the devices were found to be functional, according to the Houston Chronicle. One of the injured parties was a law enforcement officer. Pagourtzis is being held on charges of capital murder and aggravated assault of a public servant, however, more charges may be added due to the functionality of the explosive devices.

The affidavit also mentioned that Pagourtzis spared the people he liked because he wanted his story told, according to CNN. Pagourtzis was described by his classmate Aidan Gomez as “a quiet kid.” Gomez also told CNN, “Every time you’d try to start a conversation with him he’d just kind of like laugh, wouldn’t really continue on with the conversation. … He didn’t like interacting with other students.” Texas Governor Greg Abbott told reporters that Pagourtzis was not known to have any criminal record. His lawyers also said that he did not appear to have a history of mental illness, according to a report from CNN.

Several students told KIAH-TV that Pagourtzis was known to wear a trenchcoat to school, and would sometimes wear a shirt emblazoned with the words “born to kill.” 16-year-old Tristen Patterson told the Associated Press that even though Pagourtzis would sometimes talk about firearms he wanted to own, he “never talked about killing people or anything like that.” Patterson considered Pagourtzis a friend and said he didn’t know much of anything about Pagourtzis being bullied. Pagourtzis claimed to have acted alone, according to a probable cause affidavit. He has not yet been asked to enter a plea.

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