Jurors for the trial of the former Fort Worth police officer who killed Atatiana Jefferson have been selected, and not one of the persons on the jury is of African descent.
Hundreds of potential jurors were interviewed, however, during the voir dire process, some flat-out said it would be impossible for them not to be biased, with a few saying they would never convict a member of law enforcement.
On Friday, Dec. 2, a Texas court announced a jury has been set for the trial of Aaron Dean, a white ex-Fort Worth police officer charged murder for fatally shooting a Black woman in her own home on the morning of Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, as she went to investigate noises police were making outside her window.
The jury consists of eight men and six women, including two alternates.
While the majority of those selected to serve on the case are white, a few identified as people of color. None of those selected from the pool of 200 potential jurors are Black.
Selection of the jurors started on Monday, Nov. 28, and lasted for almost a week, according to ABC 8. The process consisted of questionnaires and voir dire that helped the attorneys select what they believed to be a fair and impartial jury.
At the top of the week, there was a concern about outside influence on the jury candidates, after Jefferson’s neighbor James Smith peacefully protested outside of the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center as people entered the building. As the court proceeding commenced, he held a banner in the front that read, “We want justice,” and featured a large picture of his neighbor with her name.
He was later signed in as a witness on Tuesday, Nov. 29, in an effort to prevent further disruption or detriment to the case by his possibly influential presence.
The prosecution and defense randomly numbered individuals who showed up to be considered for this civic duty.
During the process, multiple topics were discussed. The lawyers asked the potential jurors about their feelings about law enforcement and social justice movements.
Initially, the lawyers were faced with citizens who said they were unable to serve, citing conflicts at home or on the job as reasons why they should be excused. Others were dismissed because they either said they were biased or a judge assessed bias in the answers they gave in court.
One person said, “I am sick and tired about the way police officers are treated and how they do their jobs,” adding, “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,” the Lake Highlands Advocate reported.
Another person, a 32-year veteran officer in Tarrant County, 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.”
From the less than a quarter of the potential jurors deemed acceptable, their numbers were then “shuffled” and reallocated. The 12 out of 46 potential jurors, who were ultimately picked, were called in numerical order from that remaining pool.
A Black female was among the number but was later excused because her spouse was scheduled for surgery.
Judge George Gallagher offered each side an opportunity to challenge the selection, but both parties declined.
On Thursday, Gallagher took time out to speak to the group about the hefty responsibility it is to be a juror and the need to be fair and impartial.
“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.
Pastor Kenneth Jones, Jr., the senior pastor at Como First Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Worth, said, “My heart is troubled, disturbed in the sense that not one African-American is sitting on this jury.”
“We’ve had some outbreaks here after the George Floyd situation, Jacqueline Craig. There will be protests. That’s going to happen, and we have that right to do,” the clergyman continued. “I’m just hoping everything will remain decent and in order, but I can’t promise it.”
He noted he and several other pastors were going to hold an interfaith prayer vigil at Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church in Fort Worth next Tuesday, Dec. 6 from noon to 1 p.m. to pray for justice and peace.
Jefferson’s family reacted to the jury selection through a statement from their attorney, civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt. “Atatiana’s family is relieved a jury has been selected after over 3 years of waiting but disappointed that not a single black juror was selected to serve,” he wrote on Twitter Friday.
Dean was one of several officers who responded to a wellness check call by a neighbor made at the day of Jefferson’s death on a non-emergency, arriving four minutes after it was made. Smith called because the 28-year-old’s front door was open. He walked through two screen doors that were shut and noticed the wood door was open.
Without announcing himself, Dean went to the back of her home, startling Jefferson. The young woman picked up her firearm from her purse, according to the account the nephew gave a civilian forensic interview, to protect the two and peeked out the window.
The rookie cop, with about a year on the job, shouted, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” and within a second, according to the officer’s own bodycam, he shot Jefferson through her home window in front of her 8-year-old nephew Zion.
Opening statements in the trial are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Monday, Dec. 5. The judge has called for half a day because that is also the same day as Jim Lane’s funeral. Lane was Dean’s lead attorney and died on Sunday, Nov. 27.