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Former, current Fort Worth officials testify ahead of ex-police officer Aaron Dean's murder trial

Betsy Price Ed Kraus Atatiana Jefferson
David Kent
/
AP / Archive
Former Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and former Police Chief Ed Kraus testified Thursday, Nov. 17 at Aaron Dean's pre-trail hearing.

Dean’s defense team brought in prominent former officials, like Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, to testify on Thursday.

Former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean’s defense team pressed prominent witnesses on Thursday, trying to prove that their statements about Dean’s case make it impossible to get a fair trial in Tarrant County.

Dean is on trial for the on-duty killing of Atatiana Jefferson, who he shot through the window of her own home in the early hours of Oct. 12, 2019. His attorneys want 396th District Court Judge George Gallagher to move the trial to another county. Dean’s attorneys argue that statements from officials like former Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who condemned Dean’s actions in the press, have biased potential jurors locally.

Price, former Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus, and current Fort Worth City Council member Chris Nettles took the witness stand on Thursday for the second day of pre-trial hearings. The defense focused on press conferences Kraus and Price gave shortly after the shooting.

In an arrest warrant affidavit, one of the witnesses to the shooting, Jefferson’s nephew Zion Carr, said his aunt pointed a gun at the window before Dean shot her. Price said Jefferson's gun was “irrelevant” at a press conference.

On Thursday, one of Dean’s lawyers, Bob Gill, asked her what she meant by that.

“Citizens have a right to have weapons in their home,” Price said.

Dean’s attorneys also argued in court filings that officials and the media have tried to make the shooting “a racial issue.” Dean is white, and Jefferson was Black.

Gill asked Price if she thought there was a racial aspect to the case.

“Clearly it involved a white officer and an African American female,” Price said.

Dean’s attorneys also pushed Nettles for information on how much he’s publicized Dean’s case. Nettles, who joined the hearing via Zoom, ran for city council on a promise to seek justice for Jefferson. After he was elected, Nettles went to the criminal courts building to deliver a letter to District Attorney Sharen Wilson and the previous judge who first oversaw the case, asking for a trial date to be set. The event was widely covered by local media.

Miles Brissette, another attorney on Dean's defense team, asked Nettles about why he told his council colleagues about the letter before he delivered it.

Nettles said he did it so his colleagues wouldn’t be blindsided by the move.

“It was on behalf of my office, not the City of Fort Worth,” he said.

Nettles later shared some of the video of the event to Facebook. Prosecutors pointed out that anyone who might be swayed by the publicity could have watched the video, not just people in Tarrant County.

Reaction to the video wasn’t all good, Nettles said.

“Honestly, it was both. Some positive, some negative,” he said.

This is the second time Dean has asked for a change of venue. The previous judge overseeing the trial, 297th District Court’s David Hagerman, shot down the first request in May, but the trial was transferred out of Hagerman’s courtroom after Dean’s attorneys successfully argued he was biased and hostile towards them.

Dean’s trial has been delayed repeatedly this year due to requests from the defense. Jury selection is currently scheduled to begin the week after Thanksgiving, with the trial set to start on Dec. 5.

Before the hearing started on Thursday, as the judge came into the courtroom and said “Let’s get started,” state prosecutor Ashlea Deener replied: “State’s been ready for hours. Days, months, years.”

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Fort Worth reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.