The trial for a former Fort Worth police officer charged with murder after shooting a woman through a window of her home has been pushed back another four months.
During pretrial motions on Wednesday, 297th District Court Judge David Hagerman granted a request to move the trial and reset the start date from Jan. 10 to May 16.
Defense attorneys for Aaron Dean told Hagerman two essential witnesses were unavailable in January.
The judge met with defense attorneys in private to discuss why these particular witnesses were so important and why there were no alternatives before granting the continuance.
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"The defense’s experts Dr. Aaron Pierce and Grant Fredericks will be beneficial material to the defense strategy or to rebut or defend against a significant fact at trial. The request was not made for the purpose of delay. Because of the unique nature of these experts’ testimony, the defense is not able to procure different experts within a reasonable amount of time," Judge Hagerman said Wednesday, before granting the request. "This is not an indefinite delay, but the court is of the opinion that denial of the motion for continuance would be an abuse of discretion and result in an unfair trial and denial of the defendant’s rights."
Aaron Dean Murder Trial
Dean was charged with murder after shooting 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson through a window in her home while responding to an open structure call in October 2019.
A neighbor called Fort Worth Police because the front door of Jefferson’s home was ajar. Body camera video released by Fort Worth Police at the time shows Dean never announced himself as a police officer. Jefferson was inside playing video games with her young nephew. According to family, Jefferson was worried someone was in her backyard, grabbed a gun, and looked out a bedroom window.
Two days after the shooting Dean resigned from the department. He was later charged with murder and released on a $200,000 bond.
A trial date had originally been set for Nov. 29, but Dean's defense team said last month they wouldn't be ready for it and the trial was pushed into next month with jury selection expected to begin Jan. 4. Now, jury selection will begin on May 9.
Natasha Nelson, who said she is a close friend of Jefferson's family, attended the pre-trial hearings this week.
"It was more of a sickening to my stomach. Like, I could have thrown up on the floor there, because I don’t get it," Nelson said, describing her reaction to the delay. "There’s people who have been taken away after her that have gotten their justice. I don’t understand why we’re waiting in the same United States of America, while we’re waiting in Fort Worth. It makes no sense."
Benson Varghese, a criminal defense attorney in Tarrant County, is not associated with the case. Pre-pandemic, he said it was not uncommon to wait between two and three years for a trial.
"Statutorily, we have some cases that have to go first. For example, it’s a case involving a child victim under the age of 14. That case, by statute, has to go first. Similarly, if a person is in custody waiting for their day in court, they have a priority," Varghese said. "So you’re balancing how old your case is against those factors, so it’s not unusual to see delays simply because that’s how Texas has structured who gets to go to trial."
Delays are also not uncommon when the charge is as serious as murder, he added.
"You’re going to pull out all the stops to present your case. Even the prosecution is not going to want to have a trial where there’s an argument where, 'well…I didn’t get to present X, Y, and Z'…because if there’s a conviction, it’s going to get overturned," he explained. "Everyone wants their day in court to be ultimately fair to everyone involved. I’m not surprised. I think the parties expected something like this could happen."
Defense attorneys for Dean have also filed a motion to request a change of venue for the trial.
Defense attorneys have asked that the trial be moved out of Tarrant County, arguing Dean cannot receive a fair trial due to pre-trial publicity.
“There exists in (Tarrant) county so great a prejudice against Mr. Dean that he cannot receive a fair and impartial trial,” Dean's attorneys wrote.
The motion was not heard Wednesday.
"It makes no sense to hear a change of venue motion today and then have both sides reinvent the wheel five months from now," Hagerman said.
Any further pretrial motions, including the change of venue request, are tentatively scheduled to be heard on May 2.
NBC 5's Alanna Quillen and Frank Heinz contributed to this report.