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Jury deliberating on sentence for former police officer convicted of killing Atatiana Jefferson

By Ray Sanchez and Eric Levenson, CNN

A jury began deliberations Monday on a sentence for the former Texas police officer who was convicted of manslaughter last week for shooting Atatiana Jefferson in her own home in 2019.

Aaron Dean, the 38-year-old White former Fort Worth police officer, faces up to 20 years in prison for killing Jefferson, a 28-year-old Black woman.

Prosecutors asked the jury to sentence Dean to the maximum 20 years in prison, saying anything less was a “travesty of justice.” Dean’s defense asked jurors to sentence him to a suspended sentence and community supervision that would keep him out of prison, noting that he was acting in his role as a police officer and was not in need of rehabilitation.

The sentencing comes shortly after a brief trial fraught with issues of race, police violence and gun rights. Much of the trial testimony also focused on police body-camera footage of the shooting and a close examination of Dean’s actions before, during and after the single shot was fired.

The case dates back to about 2:25 a.m. on October 12, 2019 when Dean and his police partner responded to Jefferson’s house after a neighbor called a non-emergency police line to report that her doors were open. Dean and his police partner, Carol Darch, did not announce themselves as police at the home, and Dean then fatally shot through a bedroom window at Jefferson, who had been up late playing video games with her young nephew.

Dean resigned from the force days afterward and was arrested and charged with murder in her killing. He has been out on bond for the last three years.

At trial, defense attorneys said Dean fired in self-defense, and Dean testified that he fired at Jefferson because she pointed a gun at him. He testified that he believed the home was being burglarized because the doors were open and the place appeared ransacked.

“The state cannot prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt that this was not self-defense,” defense attorney Bob Gill said. “It’s tragic, but is not an offense under the state of Texas.”

However, prosecutors argued there was no evidence he saw a gun in the woman’s hand before he fired at her. Further, Jefferson’s 11-year-old nephew, who was with her at the time, testified he did not see her raise a gun to the window. His police partner, Carol Darch, testified Dean did not mention he had seen a gun in the minutes after the shooting as they ran into the home.

“If you can’t feel safe in your own home, where can you feel safe?” Tarrant County prosecutor Ashlea Deener told jurors in closing arguments. “When you think about your house, you think about safety. It’s where you go to retreat, to get away from the world.”

Though Dean was charged with murder, jurors were also allowed to convict him on a lesser charge of manslaughter. The jury deliberated for more than 13 hours, according to CNN affiliate WFAA, before announcing a guilty verdict on Thursday. The manslaughter conviction of a police officer who was on duty is a first in Tarrant County, the station reported.

Sentencing phase of the trial

On Friday, in the sentencing phase of the trial, jurors heard from various witnesses, including a psychologist who evaluated Dean before he was hired by the Fort Worth Police Department and members of Jefferson’s and Dean’s families.

The clinical and forensic psychologist, Dr. Kyle Clayton, described Dean as narcissistic and testified that he was “not psychologically suitable to serve as a police officer.” He said Dean exhibited signs of grandiosity.

Defense witness Tim Foster, who attended the same church as Dean, described him as “dependable, upright, noble.”

Dean’s mother, Donna, told jurors that he is the second born of her six children. She said he told the family he decided to become a police officer because “he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and to help people.”

Dean’s younger brother, Adam, called him “a man of integrity” who “cares about honor and wanting to do the right thing.” A younger sister who is a police officer, Alyssa, testified that he is “hardworking, humble, caring.”

Jefferson’s older brother, Adarius Carr, told jurors his sister was diagnosed with diabetes at a young age and had aspired to become a doctor. Carr said Jefferson was his best friend and testified that he could not believe it when he heard she had been killed.

Jefferson graduated from Xavier University of Louisiana in 2014 with a degree in biology and worked in pharmaceutical equipment sales, according to her family’s attorney.

She had moved to Fort Worth a few months earlier to take care of her ailing mother and her nephews, family attorney S. Lee Merritt said at the time.

Nephew, police partner and Dean testified

The prosecution’s first witness was Zion Carr, who was 8 years old and in the bedroom with his “Aunt Tay” when she was shot.

Now 11, the boy testified they had accidentally burned hamburgers earlier in the night, so they opened the doors to air the smoke out of the house.

He and his aunt were up late playing video games when Jefferson heard a noise outside, and she then went to her purse to get her gun, he testified. He did not see her raise her firearm toward the window, he testified.

Zion said he did not hear or see anything outside the window, but he saw his aunt fall to the ground and start crying.

“I was thinking, ‘Is it a dream?'” he testified. “She was crying and just shaking.”

Prosecutors also called to the stand Dean’s police partner, Darch, who testified she was with Dean when they went to investigate the home.

She said she believed the home was being burglarized because two doors were open, lights were on inside, cabinets were wide open and things were strewn about the living room and kitchen area.

She had her back to the window when Dean began to yell out commands for Jefferson to put her hands up, she testified. Darch said she started to turn around, heard a gunshot, then looked over Dean’s shoulder and could see a face in the window with eyes “as big as saucers.”

She testified she did not see Jefferson holding a gun and didn’t recall Dean ever saying that Jefferson had a gun.

Dean testified last Monday that he fired at Jefferson because she pointed a gun at him.

“As I started to get that second phrase out, ‘Show me your hands,’ I saw a silhouette,” the former officer said. “I was looking right down the barrel of a gun, and when I saw the barrel of that gun pointed at me, I fired a single shot from my duty weapon.”

In cross-examination, however, Dean admitted many of his actions that night were “bad police work,” including firing without seeing her hands or what was behind her, failing to tell his partner he saw a gun and rushing into the home without fully ensuring it was safe.

“You’ve got another fellow officer from the Fort Worth Police Department entering a home which you have determined to be a burglary in progress with a possible armed assailant, and you didn’t think to tell your partner, ‘Hey there’s a gun inside?'” prosecutor R. Dale Smith asked.

“No,” Dean said.

“You didn’t think to tell her, ‘Hey I saw somebody with a gun?'” Smith asked.

“No,” he said.

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CNN’s Bill Kirkos contributed to this report.

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