After three years of waiting, Atatiana Jefferson’s family finally received justice for her death, but they felt it was inadequate.
Aaron Dean, a former Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed Jefferson in 2019, was found guilty of manslaughter and given almost 12 years in prison on Tuesday.
The verdict brought to a close a long-awaited trial in relation to a homicide that sparked a discussion about racism and policing as a forerunner to the widespread social justice demonstrations the following summer.
Dean received a prison term of 11 years, 10 months, and 12 days. Although the Tarrant County jury did not specify how it arrived at its decision, Jefferson’s family believes it took into consideration both the age of Jefferson’s nephew Zion, who was with her when Dean killed her and the occasion: October 12, 2019.
Ashley Carr, Jefferson’s oldest sister, stated following the decision, “There’s a message in this.” “It may not be a complete dream and the message we desired, but it is some of it.”
Carr and his allies referred to the choice as momentous. No Tarrant County officer had ever been charged with murder prior to Dean’s arrest. Instead of convicting him of murder, which could have resulted in a life sentence, the jury found him guilty of manslaughter.
Lee Merritt, the family’s federal civil attorney, said that Dean’s conviction marked Tarrant County’s first for an officer homicide while on duty. Carr claimed that only a small number of families of Black women killed by police nationwide had the opportunity to witness Dean’s trial.
BREAKING: Aaron Dean, the Texas cop who killed #AtatianaJefferson, was found guilty of manslaughter.
Dean shot Atatiana through a window when she was playing video games with her nephew, after a call about an open door. He never identified himself as police. She was 28. pic.twitter.com/wF1U18X3X3
— AJ+ (@ajplus) December 15, 2022
At a press conference held at the home where Jefferson was killed, North Texas pastor and activist Collin Packer remarked, “But when we use the word ‘historic,’ it is an acknowledgment in this situation of the unfair and inequitable application of the law for white people vs African American people.”
“Those in this community have little doubt that this is not Tarrant County’s first officer-committed homicide. It’s just the first time a district attorney, grand jury, and jury have been willing to condemn a cop.
That’s correct, Merritt affirmed.
Roughly two days and about 13 hours of deliberation later, the jury of seven men and five women decided on Dean’s sentence. Despite the fact that some of the jurors were of color, no one was Black. Dean is white. The Black Jefferson was.
Dean, 38, remained emotionless as state District Judge George Gallagher read the ruling, keeping his eyes fixed forward. Each juror then nodded in agreement as the former officer and his legal team sat down and turned to face the judge. Next to him, a black Bible was on the table.
Dean cannot be released on parole until he has served half of his term.
Reactions to the choice from Jefferson’s family and neighbors were conflicted. Her loved ones did note that Dean’s conviction and murder of Jefferson might serve as a spark for policing reform in Fort Worth.
Ashley Carr, speaking on behalf of her sister Amber, who had been hospitalized during the trial with pneumonia, told Dean during victim-impact comments, “No amount of sentencing will make me feel as like we got some form of justice.” “Atatiana ought to be still present. She had lofty aspirations.
Carr read her sister’s statement while lowering her head and furrowing her brows. Dean studied her from his upright seat every time she raised her head to look at him.
After deliberating Dean’s guilt for around 14 hours over two days, the same jurors found him guilty of manslaughter on Thursday. Dean was eligible for probation but also risked a sentence of two to twenty years in prison. Dean had been out on bond but was put in jail after being found guilty of manslaughter.
While defense counsel claimed Dean deserved probation, prosecutors asked jurors for the harshest possible punishment.
Deputies accompanied the jury as they exited the courtroom on Tuesday without making any comments.
After a worried neighbor dialed a non-emergency police number, Dean opened fire on Jefferson from the backyard of her mother’s house through her bedroom window. The doors to the house were open, and the interior lighting was on. Zion Carr, who was 8 at the time, and Jefferson were playing computer games while the doors were left open to let the smoke out after they cooked hamburgers.
When Zion’s mother was ill, Jefferson, an ambitious doctor who was up in Dallas’ Oak Cliff, moved in to take care of her and Zion.
The shooting took place just seven months before the national reckoning that would follow the 2020 death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Since the trial’s opening on December 5, the prosecution has maintained that Jefferson had a right to self-defense and that Dean failed to observe the correct protocol when he entered the house because he didn’t notice Jefferson’s gun.
Dean testified he saw the gun’s barrel during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial. Dean did not testify to what his attorneys claimed he saw: a green laser directed at him.