Former Fort Worth Police Department officer Aaron Dean, 36, was convicted of manslaughter in the October 2019 shooting and killing of 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson in her home.
The defendant learned his legal fate in a downtown Fort Worth courtroom on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, just after 2:30 p.m. Central Standard Time.
Tarrant County jurors delivered a verdict of not guilty on the murder charge. A defense request to entertain a lesser manslaughter charge, however, resulted in a guilty conviction.
All told, the jury deliberated for some 13 hours.
Before the verdict was read, 396th District Court Judge George Gallagher warned all attendees in the courtroom not to react to the reading of the verdict. After the verdict was read, the judge polled the jurors to confirm the verdict before sending them away. After that, Gallagher accused a woman “in the back row” of “causing a ruckus” during the jury poll.
“Her only crime was love,” the prosecution said during closing arguments Wednesday morning. “She never had a chance.”
Dean, who is white, fired the shot that killed Jefferson, who is Black, as she was babysitting her then-8-year-old nephew. The defendant and his attorneys argued that his actions were justified and in self-defense. Prosecutors argued Dean did not act in self-defense and, citing FWPD protocols, that he should have never fired his weapon.
The state’s case-in-chief was rested late last week.
The ex law enforcement officer, who quit the FWPD before he could be fired, testified in his own defense on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022.
On the stand, Dean repeatedly asserted that he was in the right, based on his training, when he killed Jefferson. During testimony spanning over four hours, prosecutor Dale Smith grilled the defendant relentlessly for perceived inconsistencies and logical flaws. The prosecution sought to trip Dean up on what, exactly, he saw in terms of the innocent woman’s gun when he fired the fatal shot, and his decision to use a bright flashlight outside her house but to never knock on either of her doors or to announce his presence.
Dean’s defense rested just before noon on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022.
In sum, the defense called three witnesses, including the defendant himself, a forensic video analyst, and a Sam Houston State University criminal justice professor. The analyst, Grant Fredericks, was used to present the notion that police-worn body camera footage may not be as accurate as the human eye – or as thorough in terms of what they capture. The professor, Jay Coons, is a veteran of law enforcement from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and testified that Dean’s actions were reasonable based on what he knew at the time.
Prosecutors followed up by calling Jonathyn Priest, another former member of law enforcement who previously worked for the Denver Police Department and who is now a forensic expert who helped develop his onetime department’s investigative protocols for police shootings. He testified that Dean’s decision-making on the night in question was almost entirely poor, noting at one point that that Dean and his partner entered Jefferson’s backyard without a warrant.
The trial will now move to the sentencing phase. He faces a sentencing range of two to 20 years behind bars.
[Images: Dean via Law&Crime Network; Jefferson via Stewart F. House/Getty Images]
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