FORT WORTH, Texas - Jurors found former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean guilty of manslaughter, but not murder in the killing of Atatiana Jefferson in 2019.
Beginning Friday, jurors will begin deciding how much prison time, if any, Dean will be sentenced to.
Dean showed no obvious reaction as the verdict was read.
Atatiana Jefferson's family did not show any emotion either, though her siblings did leave the courtroom immediately.
Outside the courtroom, emotions ran high.
Several in the crowd said they felt a manslaughter conviction was not good enough. They felt Dean should have been found guilty of murder.
"He killed that girl. Manslaughter, that’s what you give this dude? And we expect justice from these people. We expect justice?," said Olinka Greene.
Some others were relieved, saying they are happy it was not a complete acquittal.
"We don’t see justice. I don’t feel like justice was served in this case, but I guess a guilty verdict is better than not guilty," said law student Richard Boule.
"First time a Fort Worth police officer ever has been charged and convicted of killing a citizen while on duty. I think it's the appropriate conviction, charge of manslaughter. I didn’t think it met the bar of murder, that is the intent, meaning he intended to kill her. He did kill her, and the jury found, in my opinion, he was reckless and caused the death of someone else. They didn't buy the argument that he was in fear of his life," said community activist Cory Session.
The former officer’s defense team argued that Dean acted in self-defense when he shot Jefferson through a window in the early morning hours of Oct. 12, 2019.
Dean's team claimed the officer was justified in shooting Jefferson because she allegedly pointed a gun at him while he was responding to an open structure call at Jefferson’s mother’s home in Fort Worth.
Dean's family left the courtroom after the hallway was somewhat empty. They did not make a statement following the decision.
Witnesses and many other directly connected to the trial are still under a gag order and cannot provide their reactions.
Aaron Dean is in custody, now convicted of manslaughter.
Aaron Dean's new mugshot taken Dec. 15, 2022.
Former Dallas County DA Russell Wilson says they likely spent a lot of time deciding whether Dean’s act was reckless versus intentional.
"I’m assuming that during their deliberations they focused very heavily on the body camera video, as we anticipated they would, and there were different interpretations of that," he said.
Friday morning, the jury meets again to determine Dean’s sentence.
Wilson says we should expect to hear from more witnesses describing Dean’s character and experience as an officer as well as the life and loss of Jefferson.
"I expect the debate, if you will, regarding the appropriate sentence to be nearly as intense as the trial," he said.
The jury deliberated from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Wednesday, and then from 8:30 a.m. to just after 2 p.m. on Thursday.
Manslaughter carries a possible sentence of 2 to 20 years in prison, although Dean could also receive probation under certain circumstances.
Witnesses and many others directly connected to the trial are still under a gag order and cannot comment on the case.
Wilson says it’s hard to predict but it’s certainly possible that the jury could make a decision by Friday afternoon.
Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker released a statement on Thursday saying:
Fort Worth congressman Marc Veasey issued a statement shortly after the verdict came down.
Trial Key Moments
Aaron Dean the stand
There was no bigger moment in the trial than when Dean himself took the stand in his own defense.
Dean told the jury he thought the house was burglarized and claims he found himself staring down the barrel of a gun.
Prosecutors worked to break down his version of events. He admitted some of his decisions were "bad police work." He also admitted he did not announce he saw a gun before he fired and failed to tell his partner he saw a gun when they went into the home.
Atatiana Jefferson's nephew, Zion Carr, changes his story
Zion Carr, Atatiana Jefferson's nephew who was there on the night of the shooting, was the first witness called to the stand by prosecutors.
Carr, who was 8 years old at the time of the shooting, struggled with some details and testified he doesn't remember hearing the gunshot, only seeing his aunt fall to the floor.
Under cross-examination, he showed the jury how his aunt held the gun.
He said she held the gun at her side and did not point the gun at Dean.
The defense argued Carr changed his testimony from what he told investigators just hours after the shooting.
The defense brought up his testimony during closing arguments.
"You could tell he was under a lot of pressure and a lot of time had passed. So Zion succumbed to the pressure and testified differently from the truth," attorney Bob Gil said.
Dean's partner, Officer Carol Darch, takes the stand
Fort Worth police officer Carol Darch responded to the open structure call with Dean on the night of the shooting.
Intense, extensive body camera video from Dean was played in court showing Dean and Officer Darch along the perimeter of Atatiana Jefferson's mother's home. Dean entered the backyard first and fired a single shot through the window striking Jefferson in the chest.
The officer testified that things she saw inside the home while approaching led her to believe a crime had been committed.
Darch said she never saw Jefferson's gun and Dean never announced to her that she had one.
"The only thing I could see was eyes really. I couldn’t make out if it was a male or female. I just saw someone in the window, and I saw their eyes," Darch said.
The prosecution and defense gave passionate closing arguments on Wednesday morning.
Prosecutors Dale Smith and Ashley Deener urged jurors to find Dean guilty of murder for killing Jefferson.
"He’s the one who ended Atatiana Jefferson’s life and he’s the reason we are here. This is a matter of accountability. Tragedy, an accident? That’s spilling your milk at breakfast. This is murder. Someone lost her life. Atatiana is no longer here through no fault of her own," Smith said.
"Atatiana Jefferson didn’t commit any criminal act by walking up to the window with her gun thinking someone was outside," Deener added. "It’s what many of us would do if we were in our house in the middle of the night in the back bedroom and we hear somebody outside," Deener argued.
"He’s supposed to be testifying in his own defense and he’s cracking jokes on the witness stand, 'I guess I should’ve just stayed home that night.' Well Atatiana was home and she’s no longer here because of what he did. The choices he made," Smith said.
The defense urged jurors to believe the initial interview with Zion Carr, Jefferson’s then 8-year-old nephew, when he told a forensic examiner that Jefferson pointed her gun at the window, which was contrary to his courtroom testimony.
"She had those rights up until the point she pointed a firearm at a Fort Worth police officer. We never, under the law, ever have the right to point a firearm at a uniformed police officer. The rights stop there," defense attorney Bob Gil said. "You’ll recall during jury selection we asked you, does an officer have to wait until he’s dead to exercise his right of self-defense? Of course not! That’s the whole reason we have a law of self-defense, is to defend ourselves, to make sure no one uses a deadly weapon on us. To save our own lives."
COMPLETE TRIAL COVERAGE:
- Aaron Dean Trial: State, defense deliver passionate closing arguments, jury deliberations begin
- Aaron Dean Trial: Defense, prosecution call expert witnesses to the stand
- 'Was that good police work?': Aaron Dean takes stand, faces intense cross-examination
- Aaron Dean Trial: State rests case after just 3 days in former Fort Worth officer's murder trial
- Aaron Dean Trial Day Two: Police officer's partner takes the stand, call to police played for jury
- Aaron Dean Trial Day One: Atatiana Jefferson's nephew testifies, lawyers give emotional opening statements
Atatiana Jefferson Shooting Timeline
The shooting happened on Oct. 12, 2019.
Atatiana Jefferson was babysitting her 8-year-old nephew at her mother's house.
A neighbor made a non-emergency call to police because a door was open with lights on.
Officer Dean arrived, walked into the backyard and saw Jefferson in a window with her gun in her hand. Dean yelled, "put your hands up! Let me see your hands!" before immediately firing a single shot, killing Jefferson.
The shooting led to protests against the Fort Worth Police Department.