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Jury set to decide sentence in manslaughter conviction of former Fort Worth cop Aaron Dean

Aaron Dean, a white man wearing a dark suit, walks through a bright door into a courtroom. A uniformed sheriff's deputy and an attorney stand to the side.
Amanda McCoy
/
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Aaron Dean enters Tarrant County’s 396th District Court after a recess on Friday, December 16, 2022, in Fort Worth. Dean, a former Fort Worth police officer, was found guilty of manslaughter in the 2019 shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson.

Aaron Dean was convicted of manslaughter for shooting and killing Atatiana Jefferson through the window of her own home on Oct. 12, 2019.

After finding former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean guilty in the killing of Atatiana Jefferson, the jury is now deliberating his sentence.

Dean was convicted of manslaughter — a lesser crime than his original charge of murder — for killing Atatiana Jefferson while on duty in 2019. He shot her through her bedroom window while responding to a call about open doors at her home.

Manslaughter carries a potential punishment of two to 20 years in prison. If the jury picks 10 years or less, they could also give Dean probation, meaning there is a chance he serves none of his sentence behind bars.

The prosecution asked the jury Monday to give Dean the maximum sentence. Jefferson’s family members, including her 11-year-old nephew Zion who witnessed the shooting, have to live the rest of their lives without Jefferson, prosecutor Ashlea Deener said.

“Mercy’s been shown already to this defendant when your verdict was returned for manslaughter,” Deener said.

Dean’s defense team asked for probation. Dean doesn’t need to be rehabilitated, because he’ll never be a police officer again, defense attorney Bob Gill said.

"He didn't take it upon himself to hunt someone down who had wronged him before, or knowingly place someone in a dangerous situation,” Gill said.

Dean testified during the trial that he could see a gun in Jefferson’s hand, while the prosecution said there’s no evidence of that. Still, Dean was on duty as a police officer and did what he thought was right to protect himself from danger, Gill said.

"So what are we gonna punish him for?" he said.

This case is being watched across the region, and police officers need to know that they can follow their training out in the field, Gill said. He also suggested that Dean could talk to Fort Worth Police Department command, to make sure something like Jefferson’s death never happens again.

“Aaron Dean can be an asset to law enforcement,” Gill said.

The punishment phase of the trial began Friday, a day after the manslaughter verdict. Both sides called up witnesses to talk about what kind of person Dean is.

The prosecution brought in Kyle Clayton, a psychologist who evaluated Dean when he applied to work at the Fort Worth Police Department. Clayton determined that Dean was not fit to be a police officer because of his "narcissistic" tendencies.

“His judgement, decision-making and interpersonal abilities would make him more likely to engage in behaviors that could put himself and others at risk,” Clayton said.

Adarius Carr is Jefferson's older brother. He took the stand Friday and told the court that Jefferson was his best friend. He showed the court a family photo of himself, Jefferson and their other sisters during a trip to San Diego, where Carr is stationed in the Navy.

He remembered the moment he got the phone call from an older sister about Jefferson's death.

"She answered the phone and she just told me up front, 'I don't know how to tell you this, but Tay is gone,’” he said. “I remember not believing it for a little while.”

Members of Dean’s family spoke in his defense and vouched for his character.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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.