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Aaron Dean sentenced to 11 years for manslaughter in fatal shooting of Atatiana Jefferson

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TARRANT COUNTY (CBSDFW.COM) - Former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean was sentenced to 11 years, 10 months and 12 days in prison for manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Atatiana Jefferson in 2019.

Dean stood quietly on Tuesday listening as state District Judge George Gallagher announced the jury's decision to sentence him to prison for over a decade for manslaughter. 

During his sentencing, the ex-cop looked different than on previous days, appearing tired following his first night spent in jail.

He sat with little expression, as witness after witness, talked about him. 

Dean's sentencing hearing began at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center on Dec.16 to help determine how long he would go to prison, if at all. It was an unpredictable day, with Gallagher admonishing Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker and city councilman Chris Nettles. Both made statements after the manslaughter verdict was given on Dec. 15. 

The judge ordered them both to return next month for a hearing on if their behavior was contempt of court, since a gag order was still in place, and because Nettles is a sworn witness in the case. 

Others were sworn in even removed from the courtroom; with one taken into custody.

Testimony started with psychologist Tim Foster, who talked to Dean when he was applying to join the police force, and didn't think he was fit for it.

"The results had suggested he had a narcissistic personality style, that would inhibit his judgement decision making, interpersonal abilities, and would make him more likely to engage in behaviors that would put himself and others at risk," said Foster. 

As evidence of Foster's claim, the state brought a woman who in 2004, as a student at University of Texas at Arlington filed a simple assault complaint against Dean.

They were both teenage students when she said Dean wrapped his arms around her, touching her inappropriately.

On the other side, a couple people who knew dean growing up, and in church, described him as dependable, intelligent, a leader. 

Dean's mother also testified. 

"He's smart. He's hard worker. He definitely wants to help people, and he's very faithful in carrying out his responsibilities," she said. 

The penalty phase of the trial ended just before 4 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 16. 

Prosecutors and defense lawyers closed their cases in the trial a day after Dean took the stand. 

During the five days of testimony, both sides called experts in police procedure as their last witnesses, to either defend or condemn Dean's actions when he shot Jefferson.

Initially, during jury selection Gallagher told potential jurors he may consider a lesser included offense of manslaughter for them to consider but it wasn't clear at the end of the day if he would do that. Murder was always on the table. 

But by Wednesday morning, Dec. 14, Gallagher told the jury they had two charges to consider—murder or manslaughter.

"I am one of the judges. The other is you the jury. You are judges of the facts only. Your sole duty is to determine whether the state has proved beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is guilty," Gallagher told jurors. 

Then lawyers gave closing arguments.

Asst. Co. District Attorney Ashlea Deener said, "If you can't feel safe in your own home? Where can we feel safe? It's where we make memories. That's why it's sacred. That's why it's so important."

"Atatiana didn't commit a crime by walking up to her window to protect herself and her nephew. She was in her own home," Deener continued. 

At one point, Deener referred to Dean, saying, "This defendant has a tremendous amount of power when he puts on his uniform."

She also reminded jurors about the impact their decision will have not only on Jefferson's family, but the community. 

"For three years, Atatiana's family has waited for this day," Deener said. "We want to feel safe in our home. Finding him guilty, says 'I'm holding you accountable.' The power you have today is to hold him responsible. It's to tell them that it wasn't in vain. It's to say she matters. They matter... East Side matters—we protect everyone and the law agrees. All of the evidence in this case is demanding a guilty verdict. That is exactly what we are asking for today. We know what he does with power. What are you guys going to do about it? Find him guilty."

Following Deener's close, defense attorney Bob Gill addressed jurors.

"This is a tragedy. It was a tragedy on that day. And it will continue to be one. But a tragedy doesn't always equate to a crime," he began. 

Gill doubled down on their assertion that Dean acted in self-defense, saying Jefferson "had the right to defend herself, and nephew in her home until she pointed a gun at a Fort Worth police officer."

He reminded jurors about Texas law regarding self-defense. 

"Pointing a firearm at another human being is a progressive, violent, provocative event. Aaron's actions that evening were justified. He was sent out there by his department to do a job. He reasonably believed that his deadly force was necessary against her because it's universally against the law in the state of Texas to point a gun at a uniformed police officer."

At 11 a.m. on Dec. 14, the jury began deliberations. 

Jurors were sequestered until reaching a verdict.

In addition to Dean's testimony (the first time he spoke publicly since 2019 about the shooting), numerous witnesses were called during the trial. 

Dean's final defense witness was Dr. Jay Coons, a former sheriff captain and criminologist at Sam Houston State University. He told the jury he thought Dean acted reasonably, given the circumstances. 

In reviewing the body camera video from Dean, Coons said he thought officers were methodical in their approach to the house, looking for signs of forced entry on a situation they thought could be a burglary in progress.

Once Dean found himself looking "down the barrel of a gun," held by someone in the house, Coons testified that officer training dictated what happened next.

"Really, as far at the training, as far as the options are as a human being, it's down to one decision, one decision only," he said.

Prosecutor Dale Smith aggressively questioned Coons, often repeating questions multiple times trying to get a yes or no answer to questions such as, 'Did any training manual prevent Dean from identifying himself before walking into the backyard of the house?'

The state's witness, Jonathyn Priest, focused specifically on those actions at the front door. That was where he said Dean and Officer Carol Darch should have either called for backup, or announced themselves to anyone who was inside.

"Those are my two choices at that point," he said. "Walking around the house is not at the top of my consideration unless I have an emergency."

Priest avoided talking too much about Dean's actual decision to fire his gun at Jefferson, saying he didn't really know what the officer had seen the morning she was killed in her East Fort Worth home. 

It was in the early morning hours of Oct. 12, 2019 that Dean fatally shot Jefferson. He and Officer Darch responded to the house after Smith called the non-emergency line just after 2:30 a.m.

A neighbor had called out of concern since the front door to the house was open. The call was dispatched as an open structure call, and Dean and Darch opened a gate and let themselves into the back yard. 

Jefferson's nephew testified that she told him she heard someone on the backyard. Thus, she grabbed her firearm and approached her back window to check. It was then, as Dean told the jury on Dec. 12, "As I looked through that window... low in that window I observed a person. Couldn't tell -- Black, White, male, female -- I saw their torso bent over horizontal. The upper arms were moving, like they were reaching, grasping for something."

He continued: "I thought we had a burglar, so I straightened up and drew my weapon... and then pointed it toward the figure. I couldn't see their hands. And we are taught that the hand... and what's in them are what kill. So I drew my weapon to tell that person to show me their hands."

A tearful Dean went into further detail about the shooting

"Show me your hands! Show me your hands!"

"And as I started to get that second phrase out, I saw the silhouette... and 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. And immediately had the flash from the muzzle reflecting off the window, and as my weapon recoiled the light was bouncing on my vision so I couldn't see. When my vision cleared, then I observed the person... that we now know as Ms. Jefferson. I heard her scream and fall like this. And I knew that I had shot that person."

During his testimony, Dean also explained to the jury why he thought he was in danger that night. 

"We are taught to meet deadly force with force. We are taught not to wait and defend ourselves."

After hearing Darch call out "Shots fired! Shots fired!" Dean said he called for medical attention for Jefferson immediately. He said she was laying face down on the floor and he couldn't "really see anything else in the room."

The jury also heard first-hand from Dean what he saw when he found Jefferson wounded. 

"I get to that back bedroom. And to my right I see a kid. And I'm thinking, who brings a kid to a burglary? What is going on? I see a dog... and I remember going over to the person laying on the floor, and saw the weapon between her feet. I put my gloves on and picked it up." 

Dean then said, "I hear Officer Darch talking to [Jefferson's 11-year-old nephew]... we now know he said, 'I don't want to go to jail.' And she tells him, 'Don't worry you're not going to jail.'" 

But a minute later, Dean took back his statement, apologizing to the court, saying he didn't actually hear that exchange, but was "processing."

From alleged 'bad police work,' to not giving Jefferson CPR after mortally wounding her, prosecutor Dale Smith hammered away at Dean's decisions the night Jefferson was killed during cross examination.

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