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Jury begins deliberations in murder trial of former Fort Worth cop Aaron Dean

Aaron Dean, a white man wearing a dark suit, stands in profile in a courtroom. His attorney, Bob Gill, a white man with a salt and pepper mustache, places a hand on his shoulder.
Amanda McCoy
/
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Aaron Dean stands with his defense team as the jury leaves the 396th District Court to start its deliberations on Wednesday, December 14, 2022, in Fort Worth. Dean is accused of murder in the 2019 fatal shooting of Atatiana Jefferson.

Dean is charged with murder for shooting and killing Atatiana Jefferson through the window of her home while on duty in 2019.

Aaron Dean’s case is now in the jury’s hands, as they begin deliberations over whether to convict the former Fort Worth police officer for murder.

Dean shot Atatiana Jefferson through her bedroom window in the early hours of Oct. 12, 2019, while responding to a call about open doors at her home. Jefferson was inside playing video games with her nephew, but Dean thought the house was being burglarized, he testified.

The prosecution argues Dean botched the call and murdered an innocent woman. Dean’s defense attorneys say Dean shot in self-defense, because Jefferson had a gun at the time she was shot.

On Wednesday, the judge asked the jury to decide whether Dean was protecting himself or his partner when he shot Jefferson. If convicted of murder, Dean faces up to 99 years in prison. The jury could also convict him of the lesser offense of manslaughter or acquit him. If he’s convicted, the trial will move on to the sentencing phase.

Both sides presented their final pleas to the jury Wednesday morning.

The prosecution’s closing arguments

Dean violated the privacy and safety everyone should be able to rely on in their own home, prosecutors told the jury.

Dean and his partner went into Jefferson’s backyard that night without ever announcing their presence or identifying themselves as police officers. When Jefferson heard a noise outside, she had every right to pick up her gun and look out her window to see what was going on, prosecutor Ashlea Deener said.

"You can’t create the danger and then claim self-defense,” Deener said.

The defense’s case focused on Dean’s assertion that he could see Jefferson’s gun through the window before he fired.

But there’s no way Dean could have seen the gun, Prosecutor Dale Smith told the jury. Dean’s bullet passed through Jefferson’s bedroom window, and the glass shattering at high speed injured her face. Her hands and arms didn’t have the same injuries, Smith said.

"They’re not there. You know why? Because the gun was down. Because she didn’t know what she was looking at,” Smith said.

Prosecutor Dale Smith, a white man wearing a light gray suit, speaks to the jury in a courtroom. One hand is on his chest, and the other points at the defendant, Aaron Dean. Dean is a white man wearing a dark suit. Dean looks down, away from Smith.
Amanda McCoy
/
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Assistant Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Dale Smith, left, gives his closing argument during the trial of Aaron Dean, right, on Wednesday, December 14, 2022, in Fort Worth. Dean is accused of murder in the 2019 fatal shooting of Atatiana Jefferson.

Dean never warned his partner that he saw a gun, before he shot or afterwards when they went inside the house, Dean’s body camera footage shows. He found Jefferson on the floor of her bedroom but never administered CPR. Dean did notice her gun, saying, “Looks like we have a weapon here.”

“That is not a declaration of a person that was sure of what they saw,” Smith said.

Jefferson’s gun also had a green pointing laser. Defense attorney Miles Brissette said during his opening statements that Dean could see that laser trained on him before he shot. But that laser never came up when Dean took the stand on Monday, Smith pointed out.

Jefferson had no idea the noise she heard outside was two police officers checking on her house. Meanwhile, Dean was a “hard-charger,” and his “gung-ho” attitude led to a senseless death, he said.

“When he approached that front door, he could have said ‘Fort Worth police,’ and Atatiana would still be alive,” Smith said.

The defense’s closing arguments

Bob Gill, one of Dean’s defense attorneys, agreed that Jefferson had a right to defend herself in her home -- but not in this situation.

"She had those rights up until the point that she pointed a firearm at a Fort Worth police officer,” Gill said. “We never, under the law, ever have the right to point a firearm at a uniformed police officer.”

The prosecution did a lot of “Monday morning quarterbacking” of Dean’s behavior that night, Gill said. Dean’s actions were dissected and criticized as “bad police work.” Dean agreed with many of those assessments during his time on the witness stand.

The prosecution can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Dean wasn’t defending himself or his partner that night, Gill said.

"Does an officer have to wait until he’s dead before he exercises his right to self-defense? Of course not,” Gill said.

Bob Gill, a white man with a white mustache wearing a dark gray suit, holds up a document in a courtroom as he addresses a jury.
Amanda McCoy
/
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Defense attorney Bob Gill gives his closing argument during the trial of Aaron Dean on Wednesday, December 14, 2022, in Fort Worth. Dean is accused of murder in the 2019 fatal shooting of Atatiana Jefferson.

Dean could see the gun in Jefferson’s hands, Gill insisted. Jefferson's hands didn’t have the same injuries as her face because her hands were out in front of her and closest to the window, underneath the cone of glass that exploded into her face, he theorized.

Dean did not try to save Jefferson’s life once he went inside the house, but Gill pointed out that her injuries were so severe, she would have died even if she was shot inside a hospital, the doctor who performer her autopsy testified last week.

"That medical aid, unfortunately, would not have mattered that night,” Gill said.

Dean thought Jefferson still had a chance to survive when he found her, Dean testified on Monday.

Gill acknowledged that Jefferson’s death is a tragedy. But tragedy does not equal crime, he said.

"Nothing that we do here this week is ever gonna bring Ms. Jefferson back, unfortunately. Nothing can change that,” Gill told the jury. “By the same token, the tragedy should not be compounded by finding guilty a man who was relying on his rights as a police officer and his rights under the laws of the state of Texas.”

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Fort Worth reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.