After more than 13 hours of deliberation, a Texas jury on Thursday found a white former police officer guilty of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson in 2019.
Former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean, 38, shot Jefferson through a window in her home on Oct. 12, 2019, while responding to a non-emergency call from a neighbor about an open front door. That night Jefferson, who was Black, was playing video games with her nephew, who testified that his aunt grabbed a gun after hearing noises outside.
The trial itself included six days of testimony and arguments that centered on whether Dean saw Jefferson was armed before he shot her.
Jefferson’s death, which came less than two weeks after former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was convicted of murdering Botham Jean in his apartment, sparked backlash nationwide. Then-Police Chief Ed Kraus said there was “absolutely no excuse” for the shooting, and former Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price called it “unjustified.” Dean resigned and was charged with murder.
The judge told the Tarrant County jury, which included no Black jurors, according to the Dallas Morning News, on Wednesday that they could also consider a charge of manslaughter.
Though the Fort Worth police department released body camera footage of the shooting and arrested Dean relatively quickly, the trial was delayed multiple times in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Dean’s lead attorney having a terminal illness.
Dean faces up to 20 years in prison for manslaughter.
Prosecution rests after eyewitness testimony
Jefferson’s nephew testifies: Zion Carr, 11, was the first witness to take the stand for the prosecution Dec. 5. Zion told the jury he and his aunt left the screen door open to let the smoke out after he burned hamburgers. Zion said his aunt heard a noise while the pair were playing video games, retrieved a gun from her purse, walked towards the window before falling to the ground and crying. Zion said his aunt did not point the gun up and denied previously saying that Jefferson had raised the gun.
Dean’s former partner takes the stand Carol Darch, Dean’s partner at the time of the shooting, testified that she never saw Jefferson’s gun and never heard Dean say Jefferson was holding a weapon.
The state’s final witnesses: The prosecution called two crime scene investigators, a detective who investigated the shooting, the paramedic who attempted to save Jefferson, the deputy medical examiner in Tarrant County and Jefferson’s eldest sister to testify, WFAA-TV reported. The prosecution rested its case after just three days of testimony.
What community activists are saying: The Next Generation Action Network, a Dallas-based social justice organization, said it was “appalled” by the brief case presented by the prosecution in a statement to CBS 11. “This is beyond troubling that after three years of waiting for this trial, only three days were used,” the statement said. “This doesn’t show the community that the Tarrant County DA is taking this case seriously at all.”
Closing arguments: Prosecutors said in their final words to the jury that Jefferson grabbed a gun to protect herself from what she thought was an intruder in her home. They argued that Dean didn’t give her enough time to comply with his orders and did not see her gun.
Jefferson’s nephew, Dean’s ex-partner testify:Aaron Dean didn’t say gun before fatal 2019 shooting of Black woman at her home
Former Fort Worth officer Aaron Dean takes the stand
Dean takes the stand When testimony resumed Monday, Dean told the jury he and Darch did not announce themselves as police officers because they believed the house was being burglarized. Dean said he fired a single shot after seeing a gun “pointed directly at” him, but said he never saw Jefferson’s hands. “We’re taught to meet deadly force with deadly force,” Dean said. “We’re not taught that we have to wait.” On cross examination, Dean agreed with prosecutors that his actions leading up to the shooting were “bad police work” and acknowledged he did not tell Darch he saw a gun before shooting.
Expert witnesses offer conflicting testimony: Forensics video expert Grant Fredericks walked the jury through videos of the shooting and the limitations of body cameras and law enforcement professor Jay Coons testified that Dean’s actions were reasonable under the circumstances. After the defense rested its case, the prosecution called forensic analyst Jonathyn Priest as a rebuttal witness who said Dean and Darch made a number of mistakes in their tactical response.
Closing arguments: Defense attorney Bob Gill argued in his closing statement that Dean was justified in defending himself and his partner after seeing a weapon pointed at him.
Dean testifies:Ex-Texas officer testifies he saw woman with gun before fatally shooting her in home
Contributing: Terry Collins, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
Contact Breaking News Reporter N’dea Yancey-Bragg at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg
Story Credit: usatoday.com