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Jury finds former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean guilty of manslaughter

Aaron Dean, a white man with reddish brown hair, sits in a blue suit at a courtroom witness stand. His brow is furrowed.
Amanda McCoy
/
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Aaron Dean takes the stand to testify on Monday, December 12, 2022, during his trial for the murder of Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth. Dean, a former Fort Worth police officer, is accused of fatally shooting Jefferson in 2019 during an open structure call.

The jury will reconvene Friday morning to determine Dean's sentence. The former police officer faces two to 20 years in prison.

Story updated 12/15/22 at 6:41 p.m

Former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean has been convicted of manslaughter, a lesser crime than his original charge of murder.

Dean was indicted for murder after he shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson in her own home.

Dean shot and killed 28-year-old Jefferson in the early hours of Oct. 12, 2019. He was responding to a call from a neighbor, asking someone to check on Jefferson's house because the doors were open.

As members of the public awaited the verdict, they stood outside the doors of the 396th District courtroom, praying for justice and chanting "Black women matter."

Dean is white, and Jefferson was Black. Her name is often invoked alongside names like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean and other Black Americans killed by police.

Judge George Gallagher gave the jury the option to either convict Dean of murder or manslaughter, or acquit him entirely. The jury deliberated for about 13 hours over two days.

When Judge George Gallagher read the jury's verdict, Dean gave no visible reaction. Ashley Carr, one of Jefferson's sisters, hurried out of the courtroom.

Many of those who came to watch the verdict condemned the jury's decision. Carolyn J. Ruff traveled from Chicago to hear the verdict, she said. She went out into the hallway of the courthouse and shouted: "She was murdered. She was murdered."

Trice Jones was a fixture at Fort Worth's racial justice protests in 2020, and she crowdfunded an effort to paint a mural to memorialize Jefferson near the home where Jefferson lived and died. Progress is not moving fast enough, she told reporters at the courthouse.

"Black people are not safe in Fort Worth," Jones said. "Black people are not safe."

Dean's trial began on Dec. 5 after repeated delays. Dean and his partner thought Jefferson's house was being burglarized, they testified during the trial. They went into Jefferson's backyard, where Dean shot Jefferson through her bedroom window.

The prosecution pushed for a murder conviction. They said there was no way Dean could have seen the gun, and he botched the call that night. Dean's defense attorneys argued their client shot Jefferson in self-defense, because he could see her holding a gun through the window.

City officials also reacted Thursday to Dean's conviction.

In a prepared statement, Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker said the verdict provides "a measure of justice, though it does not change the fact that a tragedy occurred."

"This tragedy for me has always been about Atatiana Jefferson, about her life as a daughter, sister, and aunt, and her lasting legacy," Parker said in the statement. "Many people in our community are hurting, and we must come together with compassion and grace."

Fort Worth Tarrant County NAACP Branch president Estella Williams also released a statement.

“We’re optimistic that this decision may represent a paradigm shift, where we begin to overcome racial and social injustices locally, regionally, and nationally that have been pervasive in policing. Whatever you feel about today’s verdict, it’s another reminder of how much more we have to do to heal as a nation,” she said.

City Council member Chris Nettles ran for office on a promise to seek justice for Jefferson's death. He was not satisfied with Thursday's verdict.

"We have been waiting for 1,160 days for justice to be served. And yet... justice still hasn't been served," he said in a statement. "The verdict is a slap in the face to the Black communities in Fort Worth and across the country. This verdict says that a white man can murder a Black woman in her own home with nothing more than a slap on the wrist — literally."

Fort Worth Report staff members Seth Bodine and Sandra Sadek contributed to this story.

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

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.