Judge expects to pick jury Friday morning in murder trial of ex-Fort Worth police officer




  • In US
  • 2022-12-01 23:28:06Z
  • By Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Jury selection is expected to wrap up Friday morning in the murder trial of former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean, with attorneys choosing which prospective jurors to strike from the remaining pool.

On day three of the jury selection process, 140 prospective jurors returned to court Thursday and that number was cut to 60 by the end of the day.

Judge George Gallagher told the jury pool that Thursday marked the most important part of the process because it gave them a chance to ask questions and hear from the attorneys about different aspects of the law related to the case, in which Dean shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson while responding to a call at her home in October 2019.

The process is designed to select jurors who can uphold their oath in good conscience, Gallagher told them. Gallagher said that by the end of the process, he hoped to find 12 "fair and impartial" jurors, plus two alternates.

The attorneys have told Gallagher that they expect the case to last about two weeks.

The trial in Tarrant County's 396th District Court will start Monday morning with a half day because the funeral of defense attorney Jim Lane is scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday.

Gallagher said that Dean has already told the court that if he is found guilty, he wants the jury to decide his punishment. He was required by law to make that decision before the trial begins. Dean's attorneys also filed a document requesting that the jury give him probation if he is convicted.

Aaron Dean, who is charged with the murder of Atatiana Jefferson, walks into the courtroom following a break in a hearing on May 4, 2022, in Fort Worth.
Aaron Dean, who is charged with the murder of Atatiana Jefferson, walks into the courtroom following a break in a hearing on May 4, 2022, in Fort Worth.  

One prospective juror on Thursday had a question about security and whether the jury would be escorted in and out of the building. The person was concerned because the case is high-profile and wondered whether people might protest outside the courthouse.

Gallagher said there is a security plan in place and he will let the people picked for the jury know the details before the trial starts.

During questioning Thursday, prospective jurors were asked in more detail about potential biases. Several people said they felt a bias against the prosecution and in favor of Dean. A few others said they would hold it against Dean if he decided not to testify in his defense. But they also said they would follow the law and let that guide them toward a verdict.

Prosecuting attorney Dale Smith asked prospective jurors how they feel about Black Lives Matter, whether they have strong feelings about firearms (either for or against), and if they have travel planned in the next couple of weeks.

Jefferson, a 28-year-old Black woman, had moved into her mother's home on East Allen Avenue to help care for her mother as her health declined. On the night of the shooting, Jefferson was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew, Zion Carr, who was the only witness inside the house.

Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed on Oct.
Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed on Oct.  

A neighbor, James Smith, called a police non-emergency line about 2:25 a.m. on Oct. 12, 2019, after noticing doors open at the house, which he thought was unusual. Smith has said that his intent was for police to check on the welfare of the residents, but police classified the call as an open structure.

Dean and Officer Carol Darch responded to the home. Body-camera video released by the police department shows that Dean looked in the front door (which was open with the screen door closed), whispered to Darch, and walked along the driveway to the back of the house. He turned on his flashlight, walked through a gate into the back yard and stood next to a window.

Inside the house, according to the account Zion gave to a civilian forensic interviewer trained to question children, Jefferson told Zion "that she heard noises coming from outside and she took her handgun from her purse."

Zion said, "Jefferson raised her handgun, pointed it toward the window, then Jefferson was shot and fell to the ground," according to an affidavit supporting the warrant for Dean's arrest.

The video shows Dean raise his handgun with his right hand while pointing the flashlight toward the window with his other hand.

Dean yells, "Put your hands up! Show me your hands!" and then immediately pulls the trigger, the video shows, firing once.

According to court documents, both officers went into the house, where Dean administered CPR while Darch took Zion outside. Jefferson died at the scene.

Two days later, Dean, then 34 years old, resigned from the police department and was arrested.

Family members and protesters have called for justice in the case over the past three years as the trial has been delayed multiple times by the COVID-19 pandemic, scheduling issues with witnesses, and the recusal of original trial judge David Hagerman.

Legal experts believe the case will hinge on whether jurors believe Dean's actions were reasonable under the state's self-defense law.

This article includes information from the Star-Telegram's archives.

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