Santa Fe school shooting suspect appears in court for change of venue hearing

The admitted Santa Fe High School shooter appeared in person in Galveston County court on Monday for a change of venue hearing.

The judge announced that he will have a decision on change of venue by the end of the week for the teen charged in the murders of ten people and injuring 13 others. Police say he admitted to opening fire on his classmates and teachers in May 2018.

Emotions were heavy in court from families of the victims and the family of the admitted mass shooter as he walked into the courtroom in chains and an inmate jumpsuit.

"This was obviously a tough day for the family,” said defense attorney Nick Poehl. “It’s the first time they’ve seen him on anything other than a video monitor since the day it happened.”

"It was emotional to me, because I was looking at him to see if I could see some remorse, and I didn’t get it,” said Sonia Lopez, mother of shooting victim Sarah Salazar. “I didn’t see it."

Salazar was a sophomore in art class when she was wounded several times during the mass shooting. She survived but underwent multiple surgeries on her shoulder and jaw. Her sister was at the change of venue hearing on Monday.

"Just because there was so much publicity on his case, I don’t think that matters,” said Suzannah Salazar, Sarah’s sister. “He knows what he did. I know right from wrong. I know he knew what he was doing.”

The defense is arguing that with about 330,000 people living in Galveston County, and with pervasive media coverage, it’s hard to find a jury who doesn’t know someone who knows someone impacted by the mass shooting. They presented local news articles and local social media comments as evidence. They want the case tried in another county.

"How would you like to sit on a jury and be rendering something that your neighbor didn’t like?,” asked defense attorney Robert Barfield. “Would the fear of that come into play? There’s all kind of things other than social media that can play on this. That’s why a move to somewhere where that’s not an issue is what we’re seeking.”

The prosecution, led by Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady, is arguing that while media coverage may be pervasive, the information being reported is accurate, not inflammatory. He listed several mayors in the area who have submitted affidavits saying it will be possible to seek a fair trial within Galveston County. The prosecution stated that the political leaders agreed in their affidavits that although the case has received a lot of media attention, it is possible to find a jury who can set aside those opinions and weigh out the facts impartially.

Prosecutors declined to interview with reporters after the hearing, but the defense had this response:

“I disagree with their take,” said Poehl. “I think that some of the coverage has not been accurate.”

At the end of the hearing, the admitted shooter took a good look back at his family sitting behind him.  Some of them burst into tears as he was escorted out. His defense attorneys said his mental evaluations are continuing.

The next hearing in this case is scheduled for May 10.