Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, was charged Friday as an adult with capital murder and aggravated assault on a peace officer, but cannot face the death penalty, according to a 13-year-old Supreme Court decision.
According to a report by criminal justice website The Marshall Project cited by USA Today, Texas has tried 17-year-olds like Pagourtzis as adults in state courts. But the Supreme Court’s 2005 Roper v. Simmons decision found that capital punishment was a violation of the Eighth and 14th Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment.
Moreover, SCOTUS ruled in 2012 that juveniles cannot face life in prison, either.
In other words, the teenager accused of killing eight students and two teachers as well as injuring 13 others could be eligible for parole around 2058, near his 57th birthday.
“The courts ruled based on the idea that those 17 and younger don’t have the cognitive development to appreciate right from wrong,” Michael Radelet, a University of Colorado at Boulder sociology professor who often testifies in death-penalty cases, told USA Today.
“Cases like this that are especially violent and an enigma make some people think they are more deserving of death,” he added, “but the ruling is about the development of the juvenile brain.”
The 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama means that he likely cannot be held without hope of parole, either.
Radelet argued, however, that the accused shooter, if convicted, would still face justice even though these two most extreme forms of punishment may be off the table.
“It’s wrong to say this young man can’t be held responsible for these crimes,” Radelet said. “Forty years is a tough row to hoe, and even then a parole board might not agree he’s not totally damaged or able to make a satisfactory transition into the community in 2058.”
Capital punishment researcher Victor Streib said that 366 or more juveniles have been executed in the U.S. since 1642, although no information was provided about what percentage of those occurred before the Revolutionary War and under British, Dutch French or Spanish colonial rule.
Texas has executed 551 convicts since 1976, roughly a third of all the executions performed in the U.S. during that period.
A total of 243 prisoners await execution in Texas today, according to Death Penalty Information Center information cited by USA Today.
The last execution of a prisoner convicted for a crime committed while a minor was in Oklahoma in 2003, Streib said.
The accused shooter planned his attack on his computer and in a journal before entering Santa Fe High School in Texas, where he was a student, Friday morning with a shotgun and a .38 revolver.
Both weapons were reportedly legally owned by the suspect’s father.
President Donald Trump interrupted a news conference shortly after the shooting occurred to express his condolences for the victims and their families.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.