Dallas

No Black jurors selected for former Fort Worth officer Aaron Dean’s murder trial

The trial’s opening statements are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Monday.

FORT WORTH, Texas — A jury of eight men and six women has been selected for the trial of former Fort Worth officer Aaron Dean, who is charged with murder in the 2019 shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson.

No Black jurors were selected for the case, which in 2019 sparked protests from the Black community over the killing of Jefferson, a Black woman.

A majority of the selected are white; several jurors are people of color, though none are Black.

Twelve jurors will sit for the trial, with two selected as alternates.

Opening statements in the trial are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Monday.

The 200 potential jurors were randomly numbered. After dozens of potential jurors were excused either because they had conflicts at home or work or because they told the court they were biased or the judge deemed them to be biased based on their answers, the potential jury pool was “shuffled,” meaning they were given new random numbers.

The jurors were then picked in numerical order from that remaining pool.

Sources with knowledge of the jury selection process said the jury was ultimately picked from the first 46 potential jurors. Among that group, there was a Black female who was excused from jury service because her spouse was having surgery.

The judge gave both sides the opportunity to challenge of the jury members that were picked, and neither side had any objections.

The final day of jury selection followed a week of questionnaires and voir dire.

Judge George Gallagher started Thursday by talking to the potential jurors about their responsibility to be fair and impartial and what their duty will be once they take an oath to serve on the jury.

 “We need you to be open and honest with us today. There are no right or wrong answers. We need 12 impartial jurors and two alternates who can come in with no preconceived notions,” said Gallagher. 

Aaron Dean is accused of shooting Atatiana Jefferson in October 2019 in her home. Jefferson’s neighbor, James Smith, called a non-emergency number to check on Jefferson’s home after he saw an open door. 

Dean and his partner responded and went around the back of the home. Dean shot Jefferson within seconds after she peered out the window to see who was in her backyard and was holding a gun. Police have said Dean never announced himself as an officer.

During jury selection this week, prosecutors allowed prospective jurors to ask questions and talk about how they felt about law enforcement.

Several jurors stood up and said they could not be impartial and were biased toward Dean because he is a police officer.

“I am sick and tired about the way police officers are treated and how they do their jobs,” one juror said. “You could present your case but I am not going to be unbiased. I couldn’t convict any law enforcement of murder while involved in a shooting because they are doing their jobs and trying to come home to their families.”

One potential juror served 32 years as an officer in Tarrant County and said, “You will have an uphill battle convincing me that 10 seconds you can get into his mind and see what he saw and heard.”

Cory Session, a Fort Worth community leader, told WFAA that he was concerned about the makeup of the jury.

“It’s just mind-boggling that this would happen at this date and time given the circumstances,” Session said. “If he’s found not guilty of the charges, race will be brought up and it could be a bad day for the city of Fort Worth and race relations. But the people who are the custodians of the judicial process are the ones should answer for how this jury pool ended up this way.”

Valerie Baston, a former Tarrant County prosecutor, said she was not shocked at all by the composition of the jury.

“It is a typical Tarrant County jury,” Baston said. “I was a prosecutor in Tarrant County for many years… and the jury pools would be predominantly white.”

But Baston said that in recent years as the county has become more diverse, the jury pools have slowly started to improve.

“We still have a long way to go,” she said.

Baston encouraged people to make sure when they are called that they come down and serve.

Both Session and Baston said they are putting their faith in the jury to make the right decision.

“I can’t tell you if it’s going to be harder on the prosecutors with this particular jury makeup,” Baston said. “But I’m confident that these jurors will do the right thing, and that they will listen to the evidence and if the State meets their burden of proof and proves the elements then the jurors should return a guilty verdict.”

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