GALVESTON, Texas (CN) — Already facing state murder charges that could send him to prison for decades, the teenager accused of killing 10 people at a Texas high school in May 2018 was hauled into federal court Monday for a closed hearing in which prosecutors unveiled 11 federal charges.
The families of victims of alleged gunman Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 18, welcomed the news Monday that federal prosecutors have charged him for a May 18, 2018 rampage at Santa Fe High School near Houston.
But Houston U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick’s office is keeping the federal charges under seal, and Pagourtzis’ federal court proceedings are not open to the public, because his case falls under the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act.
The law mandates that courts seal cases involving people charged before age 21 of federal crimes that happened before they turned 18.
Pagourtzis was a 17-year-old junior at Santa Fe High School when he reportedly walked into a first-period art class with a sawed-off shotgun and a .38 caliber handgun, fatally shot eight students and two teachers and wounded 13 others.
Legal experts say such federal juvenile delinquency proceedings do not require a grand jury indictment, public trial, nor trial by jury. But they rarely come up because the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act favors referring juveniles to state authorities, as state juvenile courts usually have jurisdiction over minors accused of violating federal criminal law. Most federal juvenile delinquency cases involve Native Americans because states do not have jurisdiction over the territory of sovereign Indian nations, experts say.
Law enforcement officers picked Pagourtzis up at the Galveston County Jail on Monday and took him to Galveston Federal Court, where he made his initial appearance in a closed hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Edison alongside a federal public defender, as his parents looked on from the gallery.
Pagourtzis has already been charged as an adult with capital murder and aggravated assault in state court.
He is not eligible for the death penalty because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 in Roper v. Simmons that executing people who were younger than 18 when they did the crime is cruel and unusual punishment, banned by the Eighth Amendment.
Federal judges can decide to try juveniles as adults, which would open Pagourtzis’ case to the public.
Pagourtzis could be eligible for parole after 40 years if he is convicted of capital murder in state court. Relatives of the shooting victims said Monday they hope the federal charges will ensure he never gets out of prison, The Associated Press reported.
The location of Pagourtzis’ state trial has yet to be chosen. Galveston County Judge John Ellisor in February granted Pagourtzis’ attorneys’ motion to move the trial from Galveston. The site will be announced at a May 10 hearing, according to court records.