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Judge George Gallagher, who has a history of judicial misconduct, was assigned the Aaron Dean trial by a constitutionally unqualified visiting retired judge. Courtesy YouTube

Tarrant County prosecutors have had more than three years to prepare for the murder trial of Aaron Dean, the former Fort Worth police officer who fatally shot Atatiana Jefferson, a young Black woman, at the Southside home she shared with her mother, in 2019. 

For supporters of justice for Jefferson, the continual delays and mishandling of the trial have reaffirmed how little Black women matter in Fort Worth. Wednesday’s news that prosecutors rested their case after only three days has shocked and horrified an already battered community.

“We waited for three years for the state to rush and rest their case in three days,” said community organizer Patrice Jones in a Facebook post.

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The announcement means Dean’s defense team has the rest of the week to prepare their case, which will include arguing that Dean shot her in self-defense. Jefferson was indeed armed when she appeared in the window where Dean was standing, based on statements from both prosecutors and Dean’s attorneys. 

Speaking to one of our reporters on Monday, Jones, a close friend of Jefferson’s family, said she expects the worst but is hoping for the best from the trial. Even though around 20% of all Fort Worthians are Black, none of the 12 jurors are Black. 

“I watched our prosecution of this case, which is led by Sharen Wilson,” Jones said. “We all know who Sharen Wilson is and who she has been.”

Prosecutors and Judge George Gallagher “badgered potential Black jurors and intimidated them,” Jones continued. “It is a testament to the Fort Worth Way. The last years have been disheartening. It is making me realize that, in this country, Black women do not matter,” because if they did, the trial would not have been delayed for as long as it was. 

Wilson, a white Republican, is widely viewed as a staunch supporter of police and the status quo. In March, she proudly endorsed county judge-elect Tim O’Hare, who falsely associates Black protesters with rioters while describing Hispanics as “less desirable people.” 

The prosecution’s case has been anemic and appears to be an attempt to throw the case in the defense’s favor. Here and across the country, district attorneys like Wilson take an active role in how high-profile cases are tried. Wilson’s tenure has been marked by bullying and intimidation that have led the county’s best prosecutors to flee to less toxic DA offices outside of Tarrant County.

Jefferson’s family members and supporters have faced apathy on the part of Tarrant County’s old white leadership, who continue to fail to understand the significance of Dean’s trial. The case was originally scheduled to take place in Judge David Hagerman’s court. Our reporting found Hagerman had scheduled a booze-filled judicial retreat around the time of the case’s original June start date (“Obstructing Justice?” Jun 20). Dean’s defense team successfully argued that Hagerman was a belligerent bully and had a visiting retired judge, Lee Gabriel, recuse Hagerman and assign the case to Gallagher, who was disciplined by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct last year for repeatedly using an electric shock device to stun a defendant in 2016. 

Gabriel did not file her oath of office for the recusal hearing, meaning Gallagher may not be qualified to preside over the trial. Our past reporting also found that Gallagher has a history of assigning bogus special prosecutors to cover up for corrupt government officials (“The Untouchables,” Jan 2021). 

On Tuesday, Dean’s partner the night of the shooting, Carol Darch, testified that she never saw Jefferson holding a gun. On Wednesday, prosecutors questioned Jefferson’s sister, Ashley Carr, for less than 10 minutes. Carr, based on livestream video of the trial, appeared surprised when Gallagher asked her to remove her mic after prosecutors asked her only a few questions. Prosecutors used the last day to focus on forensic evidence and medical examiner findings.

Many following the trial expected prosecutors to call more witnesses and to use the full week to make their case to jurors that Dean murdered Jefferson and failed to follow police protocols when he walked behind her home without announcing his presence before shooting her.

In a public statement, organizers with Next Generation Action Network, a Dallas nonprofit that lobbies for social change and equality, said they were appalled by the prosecution’s mishandling of the case so far.

“In the case that was presented by the [prosecutors], they failed to show the jury the humanity of Atatiana Jefferson as the person the world has grown to know: the aunt, sister, friend, and larger-than-life young lady. This is beyond troubling that after three years of waiting for this trial, only three days were used. This doesn’t show the community that the Tarrant County DA is taking this case seriously at all. Our organization stands with the family and community demanding the conviction of Aaron Dean.” 

This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. He will gently edit it for concision and clarity. 

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