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Former Fort Worth officer Aaron Dean's appeal refused by state’s highest criminal court

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 Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will not review the manslaughter conviction of former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean, who fatally shot Atatiana Jefferson through her bedroom window in 2019.

Dean filed a petition for review in his case last month after the state's Second Court of Appeals upheld the conviction earlier this year. He was convicted on the lesser charge of manslaughter in 2022 instead of his original charge of murder.

In court documents filed April 16, Dean's attorney Bob Gill said jurors should only have been allowed to decide on murder, not manslaughter.

"[Dean’s] jury was under pressure to convict [Dean],” Gill wrote. “They compromised on manslaughter even though the facts showing only an intentional act did not justify this verdict.”

Prosecutors can request juries consider lesser charges, which is what they did in Dean’s case, according to Gill. Current precedent “allows the prosecution to blindside a defendant with a charge not included in the indictment and not raised by the facts,” he argued.

The filing asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to reconsider that precedent. It also brought back a familiar argument for Dean’s defense team: that his trial never should have taken place in Tarrant County.

The shooting gained national attention. Dean is white, and Jefferson was Black. She died just months before George Floyd, and her name often comes up in conversations about racial justice and police brutality.

On Oct. 12, 2019, Jefferson was up late playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew. A neighbor, concerned about seeing open doors at Jefferson's house, called a non-emergency number.

Dean and his partner responded to the call and suspected a robbery was in progress, they testified during Dean's trial. They went into the backyard, and Dean saw Jefferson through the window. Body camera footage shows he shot Jefferson less than a second after commanding her to put up her hands. He never identified himself as a police officer.

The prosecution argued there was no evidence he saw Jefferson's gun, implying he didn't see her weapon until he went inside to find who he had shot. Dean testified he could see a gun in Jefferson's hand through the window and shot in self-defense.

A jury sentenced Dean to11 years, 10 months and 12 days in prison. The sentence contains an apparent reference to the month and day Jefferson died: October 12.

KERA News reporter Miranda Suarez contributed to this report. This is a developing story and will be updated.

Got a tip? Email Megan Cardona at mcardona@kera.org.

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Megan Cardona is a daily news reporter for KERA News. She was born and raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and previously worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.