Aaron Dean’s defense attorneys are investigating possible juror misconduct over a social media post from an alleged juror requesting information about the case during the trial, according to court documents.
The former Fort Worth officer was convicted last month of manslaughter and sentenced to nearly 12 years in prison for the 2019 murder of black woman Atatiana Jefferson in her home. His lawyers said in court that filing a potential juror misconduct complaint could qualify Dean, 38, for a new trial.
A spokeswoman for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office said the office was aware of the social media post and that the lawsuit had been heard by a judge. Dean’s lawyers could not be contacted for comment.
According to court documents, the social media post “sought opinions and information from non-jury members.” The documents say that Dean’s lawyers learned of the position while the jury was debating Dean’s punishment, and it was written into the court records.
The lawsuit asked the court for the jury’s contact information so that Dean’s defense team could investigate the report.
The document also says the lawyers want to determine “whether jurors arrived at their unusual verdict through numerical multiplication and/or division, and not through the full, fair and free expression of jurors’ opinions.”
A Tarrant County jury sentenced Dean to 11 years, 10 months and 12 days in prison; he faced up to 20 years. The jury rejected a more serious murder charge that could have led to a life sentence. The jury did not say how they arrived at their verdict or the length of the sentence.
State District Judge George Gallagher granted the defense’s motion Thursday.
Dean, white, and a fellow officer were sent to the Jefferson family home in the early hours of October 12, 2019, after a concerned neighbor called 911 to report that the doors were open and the lights were on. The officers did not report their presence.
At the long-delayed trial, Dean testified that he thought the house had been robbed and believed the burglar might still be inside. Dean led the other officer around the house to the fenced back yard. He saw the silhouette through the window, shouted commands, and in less than a second fatally shot Jefferson, who was on the other side of the glass.
Dean’s lawyers claimed that the rookie cop saw Jefferson’s gun in the window. Jefferson’s nephew, Zion Carr, said that Jefferson snatched a gun from her purse after hearing a noise in the backyard. Zion, who was 8 years old when he witnessed the shooting, said they were playing video games late and left the doors open to ventilate smoke from burgers set on fire during lunch.
Prosecutors argued that Dean did not see Jefferson’s gun and violated departmental protocol by answering a question about the house.
Jefferson was a 28-year-old aspiring physician who grew up in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. She moved into a home in Fort Worth to care for her ailing mother, who died in early 2020, and Zion, whose own mother, Amber Carr, was also ill. The family’s lawyer said Amber Carr would be transferred to a hospice this week.
The killing sparked nationwide outrage that preceded massive social justice protests in 2020. Dean is the first law enforcement officer in Tarrant County to be charged with murder.
He must serve half of his sentence in a state prison before being eligible for parole.