No Black jurors selected for murder case against ex-Fort Worth officer Aaron Dean

No Black jurors selected for murder case against ex-Fort Worth officer Aaron Dean

By Krista M. Torralva

The long-awaited murder trial for ex-Fort Worth cop Aaron Dean is set to begin Monday in Fort Worth. Lawyers picked 12 jurors and two alternates Friday from a pool of almost 200 Tarrant County residents.

No Black jurors were selected Friday for the murder trial of ex-Fort Worth police Officer Aaron Dean, who shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson, a Black woman inside her home in October 2019, WFAA-TV (Channel 8) reported.

The long-awaited murder trial is set to begin Monday in Fort Worth. Lawyers picked 12 jurors and two alternates Friday from a pool of almost 200 Tarrant County residents. The jury must decide whether Dean was justified when he shot Jefferson through a window from the backyard.

The jury is made up of eight men and six women and most are white, WFAA reported. Several jurors are people of color, but their races were not immediately known.

Keeping Black residents off juries has been a notorious nationwide problem. A 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made excluding jurors solely because of their race cited a memo from a prosecutor in neighboring Dallas County.

The Dallas County memo trained prosecutors to keep people of color off juries. It also warned against women, fat people and Jews, among others.

“You are not looking for any member of a minority group which may subject him to oppression — they almost always empathize with the accused,” the memo said.

The prosecution or defense could have asked for what’s called a Batson challenge, named for the Supreme Court case, if they thought either side was striking a Black person from Dean’s jury because of race. No such hearing was held.

Jefferson, 28, was fatally shot after a neighbor called a nonemergency line to request a welfare check because the front door was open and lights were on early in the morning of Oct. 12. Jefferson was living in her mother’s house at the time to care for her and Jefferson’s 8-year-old nephew, Zion Carr.

Fort Worth police said Dean, 38, failed to identify himself as an officer when he arrived and walked around the back of the house. The department issued an arrest warrant for murder two days after the shooting. Then-Chief Ed Krause said Dean resigned before he had the chance to fire him.

Footage from Dean’s body camera shows him walk to the back of the house, then turn toward a window. He yelled at Jefferson — “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” — then shot her through the window in seconds.

Zion, interviewed by officers the same night, said Jefferson heard someone outside and pointed a handgun to the window, Fort Worth police said.

David Henderson, a civil rights lawyer representing Zion in a federal civil lawsuit, said the prosecution faces an “almost impossible battle” without at least two Black people on the jury, based on his observations of other trials across the country and the racial makeup of their juries. The rule of thumb lawyers pick juries by is that they cannot change people’s minds on what they already believe, they can only appeal to their beliefs, Henderson said.

“The issue is how readily the jurors identify with what happened to the victim. Black jurors identify more readily because they share the same fears,” Henderson said. “Jurors vote based on their concerns about being personally impacted by the outcomes of trials.”

The Dallas County jury that sentenced white ex-Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger to 10 years in prison for murdering Botham Jean, an unarmed Black man in his own apartment, included five Black people, five Hispanics and two white people, said Toby Shook, Guyger’s lawyer. In that case, Guyger was off-duty but in uniform when she shot Jean because of her mistaken belief that she was in her apartment and that Jean was an intruder. Instead, Guyger walked into Jean’s apartment one floor above hers.

Shook said he didn’t believe Guyger was hurt by having Black jurors. Her jury decided on a 10-year sentence, far below the minimum 28 years prosecutors asked for.

Shook said negative publicity and pressure put on jurors hurt Guyger. He said he believed the jurors could be fair after reviewing their questionnaires and interviewing them during jury selection.

Potential jurors in Dean’s case answered 25-page questionnaires and were interviewed in-person and individually. Shook said what lawyers learned about their beliefs, rather than race, is key.

Texas Metro News

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