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A white former Texas police officer who fatally shot a Black woman through a window of her home in October 2019 was sentenced to 11 years and 10 months in prison Tuesday.
The former officer, Aaron Dean, was found guilty of manslaughter Thursday in the fatal shooting of Atatiana Jefferson, 28, who had been playing video games at home with her 8-year-old nephew. Dean was responding to Jefferson’s home after a neighbor had called a nonemergency line around 2 a.m. to say he had noticed an open front door.
Jurors deliberated for about 13 hours before it handed down the sentence. Dean appeared stoic as the verdict was read. He did not speak before he was taken into custody.
Jefferson’s sister, Ashley Carr, called her “a beautiful flower just starting to bloom” in a victim impact statement she delivered after the sentence was announced.
“My sister did not do anything wrong,” Carr said. “She was in her home, which should have been the safest place for her to be.”
Jurors began deliberating Monday after they heard testimony from witnesses who included Jefferson’s brother and a forensic psychologist who conducted Dean’s psychological evaluation before he became a police officer in Fort Worth.
Kyle Clayton, the psychologist, told jurors that he had concluded that Dean “was not psychologically suitable to serve as a police officer” and that an evaluation suggested that Dean “had a narcissistic personality style” that would inhibit his judgment and “make him more likely to engage in behaviors that could put himself and others at risk.”
The defense countered that, to become a Fort Worth police officer, Dean would have had to pass a psychological evaluation from a panel of three other psychologists who would have determined that he was fit for duty.
Adarius Carr, Jefferson’s oldest brother, testified that his sister was a caring woman who moved back home to Fort Worth and cared for her nephew because the boy’s mother and grandmother were both in the hospital with heart problems.
Carr said Jefferson was always a “flawless” student and dreamed of becoming a doctor after she had been diagnosed with diabetes in her preteens.
The jury also heard from Elizabeth Turner, who accused Dean of grabbing her and touching her breast without her consent when they were both in college. Dean was issued a citation for simple assault in the incident, pleaded no contest and paid a fine.
The defense witnesses Friday included Dean’s mother, who said he became an officer because he wanted to help people.
“He’s smart. He’s a hard worker,” Donna Dean said. “He definitely wants to help people, and he’s very faithful about carrying out his responsibilities.”
The jury, which deliberated about 13 hours before it delivered the manslaughter verdict, rejected a murder charge that could have sent Dean to prison for life. Dean faced two to 20 years in prison on the manslaughter conviction. Prosecutors had asked jurors to sentence him to the maximum. The defense argued for probation.
During the trial, Bob Gill, an attorney for Dean, said Dean was acting in self-defense when he shot Jefferson after he saw a gun in the window. Gill said Jefferson had the right to protect herself and her home “up until the point that she pointed a firearm at a Fort Worth police officer.”
Dean who took the stand in his own defense, said he thought he was responding to the scene of a burglary and saw an armed figure in a window of Jefferson’s home.
“I’m just looking right down the barrel of the gun, and when I saw the barrel of that gun pointed at me, I fired a single shot from my duty weapon,” Dean said on the witness stand.
Prosecutors said Jefferson acted reasonably and was within her rights to protect herself and her nephew, Zion Carr, when she heard noises outside her home in the middle of the night and got her gun, as she did not know police officers were outside.
They also sought to cast doubt on Dean’s testimony about seeing a gun before he shot Jefferson, saying that after Dean fired, he continued to stand in front of the window and did not tell his partner when they entered the home that he had seen a weapon.
“He never said there was a gun, because he didn’t know,” prosecutor R. Dale Smith said.
The shooting in 2019 led to widespread criticism and prompted calls for police accountability and racial justice in law enforcement.
Dean, who resigned from the police department before his arrest, was indicted in December 2019 on a murder charge.
Jefferson graduated from Xavier University in Louisiana with a degree in chemistry. She returned home after college to help her family with health issues and was planning to attend medical school.
Daniella Silva is a reporter for NBC News, focusing on education and how laws, policies and practices affect students and teachers. She also writes about immigration.
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