FORT WORTH, Texas — A white former police officer will go on trial Monday for fatally shooting a black woman through a rear window of her Texas home while responding to a call about an open door in a case that has faced years of delays.
Fort Worth officer Aaron Dean resigned and was charged with murder two days after killing 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson in October 2019. Jefferson had been playing video games with his 8-year-old nephew, who later told The authorities that her aunt had withdrawn drew a gun after hearing suspicious noises behind the house. Body camera footage showed Dean did not identify himself as a police officer.
At the time, the case was unusual for the relative speed with which, amid public outrage, the Fort Worth Police Department released the body camera video and arrested Dean. Since then, his case has been repeatedly postponed amid legal disputes, the terminal illness of his lead attorney and the COVID-19 pandemic.
By contrast, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin went on trial and was convicted of murdering George Floyd more than a year and a half ago. However, Floyd was killed some seven months after Jefferson, in a case that sparked worldwide protests over racial injustice.
Dean, who has pleaded not guilty, was released on $200,000 bail. Now 38, he stands accused of killing Jefferson on Oct. 12, 2019, after a neighbor called a non-emergency police line to report that the front door of Jefferson’s home was unlocked.
Body camera video showed Dean approaching the door of the house where Jefferson was babysitting his nephew. He then walked around the side of the house, pushed open a gate into the fenced-in backyard and fired through the glass a split second after yelling for Jefferson, who was inside, to show his hands.
Dean was not heard identifying himself as a police officer on the video and it is unclear if he knew Jefferson was armed. That question and potential testimony from another officer who was there that night are likely to be key points in the trial.
Jefferson was considering a career in medicine and moved into his mother’s house months before the shooting there to help out as the older woman’s health declined.
His murder shattered the trust that police had been trying to build with communities of color in Fort Worth, a city of 935,000 about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Dallas that has long received complaints from racially charged police. unequal and excessive use of force.
The shooting drew a swift rebuke from the city’s then-police chief and Republican mayor, who at the time called the circumstances “truly unthinkable” and said the fact that Jefferson had a gun was “irrelevant.”
Dean’s legal team used those comments in unsuccessful attempts to get the case out of Fort Worth, claiming that media attention and statements by public officials would bias the jury pool.
As jury selection was scheduled to begin last week, Dean’s defense attorney, Jim Lane, died. After years of delays, U.S. District Judge George Gallagher moved ahead anyway, and after days of questioning potential jurors, a panel of 12 jurors and two alternates was selected Friday. Eight were men, six were women, and none of them appeared to be black.
The opening day of Dean’s trial will end early so that participants can attend Lane’s funeral.
Follow AP’s full coverage of the murder of Atatiana Jefferson: https://apnews.com/hub/atatiana-jefferson