At a hearing Friday, a judge heard arguments from prosecutors who want to move the trial of Aaron Dean, a former Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson in 2019, two months earlier than the set date in May.
Judge David Hagerman did not deny the request outright during a hearing in 297th District Court in Tarrant County on Friday, but made clear that he is not likely to grant the motion.
In January, Hagerman tentatively scheduled Dean’s murder trial for May 16. The trial was initially set to begin Jan. 10, but was rescheduled in December after Dean’s defense attorneys said expert witnesses would not be available to testify at that time. The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office filed a motion objecting to the May trial date and asked the trial be moved to March.
At Friday’s hearing, Assistant Criminal District Attorney Dale Smith said “justice mandates balancing defendant’s need for his expert witnesses, while also minimizing the length of any further delay.”
“The four-month continuance granted by this court exceeds that which was required by defendant’s motion for continuance and unduly delays justice,” a motion from the prosecutors said.
Hagerman said the lengthy continuance is due to one of Dean’s attorney’s obligation to another murder trial in March.
Miles Brisette was assigned as standby counsel to James Floyd Jr., who will represent himself at his trial in 396th District Court. The case, Brisette said at Friday’s hearing, is expected to last about three-and-a-half weeks. Moving Dean’s trial any earlier than May 16 would mean Brisette would not be able to fully represent Floyd in the other trial, Dean’s attorneys said.
Hagerman admonished the prosecuting attorneys for the request, since granting it could mean either Floyd or Dean would be denied their right to their legal counsel. Hagerman was visibly annoyed, putting his head in his hands while discussing the request.
Floyd is charged in the death of John Porter, who police have said was beaten with a metal table and shot in the head during a robbery in March 2017. Floyd is also accused of shooting Porter’s wife, who survived.
In response to Smith’s arguments Friday, Bob Gill said the defense for Dean has no indication their witnesses will be available before May.
Hagerman said he would consider the prosecutor’s motion, but said he did not believe witnesses for Dean’s defense would be able to attend an earlier trial.
“Against my better judgment, I will take this matter under advisement,” he said. “I will at least ask the defendant’s counsel to find out about their experts and see if they are still tied up through March — I anticipate they are.”
Smith said prosecutors also want the trial moved because it falls within National Police Week, which is May 15 through May 21. Hagerman said if the prosecuting attorneys are concerned about National Police Week impacting potential jurors, they could consider sequestering the jury.
Smith, running through the history of Dean’s case, emphasized the fact that the community and Jefferson’s family have waited more than two years to see Dean before a jury. Hagerman pointed out most cases are severely delayed due to the COVID-related backlog in the criminal justice system.
“It seems like you’re trying to turn the public’s right to a trial into the public’s right to a speedy trial,” Hagerman said. “We have a lot older cases than the Aaron Dean case.”
Jefferson, 28, was shot inside her own home in south Fort Worth in October 2019. After the motion to move the trial was granted in December, Jefferson’s family and others in the community said the continued delay in justice is disrespectful.
“Is this how justice comes for Black women?!?!” Jefferson’s sister Ashley Carr posted publicly on her Facebook on Dec. 15. “Just let me know!! How long do we have to wait?”