Jury deliberates in murder trial of former Fort Worth officer Aaron Dean

FORT WORTH – A jury will consider the fate of former Fort Worth Police Officer Aaron Dean on Wednesday after attorneys presented concluding arguments in his murder trial. Dean fatally shot a black woman at her mother’s home more than three years ago.

Dean, 38, faces life in prison if convicted of the murder in the shooting death of 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson. Dean, who is white, shot Jefferson through her bedroom window from the backyard when the officer was responding to a call at the East Fort Worth home.

A concerned neighbor called a non-emergency police line at approximately 2:30 a.m. on October 12, 2019 because the doors of the home on the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue were open and the lights were on inside. Jefferson and her 8-year-old nephew stayed up late playing video games and leaving the doors open to vent smoke after burning hamburgers at dinner, according to witnesses.

The Tarrant County jury may also consider a lesser charge of manslaughter, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Although some of the 12 jurors and two alternates are black, none are black. The jury will be seized during deliberations, the judge told them at jury selection.

Atatiana Jefferson, pictured in San Diego while traveling with her siblings, was killed in October....
Atatiana Jefferson, pictured in San Diego while traveling with her siblings, was killed at her mother’s home in Fort Worth on October 12, 2019. Her killer, former Fort Worth Police Officer Aaron Dean, is on trial in Tarrant County for murder.(Krista Torralva)

The key questions for the jury are whether Dean saw Jefferson’s gun – which she grabbed when she heard a noise in the backyard – and whether, as the officer on duty, he had authority to shoot her. Dean and a colleague did not answer when they responded to the call. Whether Dean and his partner should have announced their presence has been a focus during five days of testimony since the trial began on Dec. 5.

Prosecutor Ashlea Deener described Dean as a “power-hungry” officer with tunnel vision who had “preconceived ideas” about East Fort Worth as a dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhood. She said Fort Worth officials were “shamed” for calling Dean a “brother in blue.”

“It wasn’t important [Dean] to serve and protect in this day,” Deener said. “It was important for him to get there, to get in the action. Power can corrupt certain cops, certain people don’t have to wear a badge. Certain individuals do not need to have the power and control if they do not respect accountability and, in this case, the severe impact this has had.”

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Deener and his colleague Dale Smith argued Jefferson had the right to arm and defend the “sacredness, security” of their home.

“[Jefferson] never had a chance,” Smith said. “Nothing she could have done could have changed what was going to happen because this man decided when he came into this house that he was going to be a hard-charger, he was going to be gung-ho and he was going to take mastery of those.” Situation. … She died by his hand.”

Prosecutors argued throughout the trial that Dean did not act in self-defense when he fired the fatal shot that pierced Jefferson’s heart. They said Dean did not see Jefferson’s gun or follow proper department procedures when he arrived at the home and investigated what Dean testified, which he believed was a burglary.

Smith placed autopsy photos of Jefferson’s hands on the jury box rail. He argued that if her hands were raised and she pointed the gun at the window, they would injure themselves from the broken glass. A coroner testified at the trial that Jefferson’s chest had bleeding wounds from the shards. The jury leaned forward and looked at Smith’s photos.

Dean’s attorney Bob Gill said in the closing arguments that Dean acted to counter deadly force with deadly force as part of his Fort Worth police training. Dean testified that he saw the barrel of Jefferson’s gun; His attorneys said in opening statements that he also saw a green laser aimed at him on his gun, but Dean did not testify.

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Gill called pointing a gun at a police officer an “aggressive, provocative act” that prompted Dean to act in self-defense. Gill emphasized that police work is inherently dangerous.

“[Dean] saw a gun pointed at him and reacted based on his training,” Gill said. “He acted tragically, but he acted correctly under the law. … He reasonably believed that his actions, his deadly power, must be countered immediately [Jefferson’s] Use of unlawful lethal force.”

He added: “Unfortunately nothing we do here this week will ever bring Miss Jefferson back. … But for the same reason, the tragedy should not be confused with a man being found guilty who was invoking his rights as a police officer.”

A jury deliberates on Aaron Dean’s fate. What happened to other Texas cops accused of murder?

Several jurors grimaced as they entered the courtroom Wednesday morning. One woman on the jury frequently bit her lower lip as she listened to attorneys make their final pleas.

Dean blinked back tears and sniffled as his attorney played Jefferson’s nephew’s forensic interview, which was taped hours after the shooting. After a few moments, Dean turned and asked a deputy sheriff for a handkerchief.

State police officers were stationed at the Tarrant County Courthouse before the jury was sent back around 11:15 a.m. to begin deliberations. Dean’s killing of Jefferson sparked national outrage and became a turning point in the wake of widespread social justice protests in 2020.

Both sides closed their cases on Tuesday afternoon. Prosecutors let their case-in-chief rest after three days of testimony last week, surprising some legal experts. They initially did not bring in an expert to testify as to whether Dean’s murder of Jefferson was justified. But after the defense called three witnesses – including Dean, who testified for about four hours earlier this week – prosecutors called their own police expert, who testified as a rebuttal witness.

Testimony ends in the murder trial of ex-Fort Worth cop Aaron Dean, the jury will hear the case on Wednesday
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The jury heard conflicting opinions from police use-of-force experts on the final day of the trial as to whether Dean acted reasonably.

Prosecutors said Dean failed to follow Fort Worth police due process in responding to the neighbor’s concerns, which a caller coded as “open structure.” Smith berated Dean on the witness stand for actions prosecutors claimed he failed to take when he arrived at the home.

But Dean and his attorneys said he believes the home was ransacked and a burglar may have been inside. Dean told the jury he saw the barrel of Jefferson’s gun through the window. According to witnesses, Dean shouted orders and fired in less than a second.

Former Police Officer Aaron Dean Tells Murder Trial Jury ‘The Gun Was Pointed Right At Me’

Jefferson’s nephew, Zion Carr, told a children’s forensic interviewer on the morning of the shooting that Jefferson pointed a gun at the window. But at last week’s stand, the now 11-year-old boy said she kept the gun by her side. Zion also told the interviewer he heard someone yelling outside the window and thought he saw a police badge. But in the stands, Zion said he didn’t hear or see anything outside. Defense attorneys later implied to the judge that they believe Zion was trained to give a different account of the shooting.

Dean resigned before the police could fire him, the then-interim police chief said. City officials said Jefferson has the right to defend herself at her home.

Prior to Dean’s arrest, no Tarrant County officer had ever been charged with murder, prosecutors said at the time.

Described by family as a doting aunt and aspiring doctor, Jefferson grew up in the Oak Cliff area of ​​Dallas and graduated from Xavier University of Louisiana. She had moved into the home on East Allen Avenue to care for her ailing mother and Zion, whose mother was also in poor health.

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