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Texas jury begins deliberations in murder trial of ex-cop who killed Black homeowner

If convicted, Aaron Dean faces up to 99 years in state prison for killing Atatiana Jefferson in her home while responding to a welfare call and failing to identify himself as a cop.

FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) — A Texas jury began deliberations Wednesday in the murder trial of former police officer Aaron Dean after defense attorneys argued that Atatiana Jefferson lost the right to defend herself in her home when she pointed a gun at him.

Bob Gill, with Gill Brissette in Fort Worth, told a Tarrant County jury during closing arguments that he agreed with prosecutors that Jefferson, 28, had the right to defend herself and nephew Zion Carr, then 8, when she heard noises outside a bedroom window while playing video games.

“She had those rights up until the point she pointed a gun at a Fort Worth police officer,” he said. “Because that conduct is a first-degree felony, it is an unlawful act.”

Dean, 38, of Arlington, faces between five and 99 years in state prison for killing Jefferson, a Black woman, on the night of Oct. 12, 2019, while responding to a welfare call. A neighbor had called a nonemergency police phone number asking for a check on an open front door.

Body camera footage shows Dean walking up to the open front door, then walking down the side of the home before suddenly yelling “put your hands up, show me your hands!” and immediately firing his service weapon inside. Dean is not shown identifying himself as police at any time. He appeared relieved when he discovered a gun near Jefferson and is not shown rendering any aid as she lay dying.

Gill said Dean was protecting his police partner, Carol Darch, 28, who was nearby.

“Does an officer have to wait until he’s dead to exercise his right to self-defense?” the attorney asked while raising his voice. “Of course not.”

Gill criticized the prosecution’s expert witness for “Monday morning quarterbacking” Dean’s decision-making, telling jurors self-defense applies because shooting was immediately necessary.

“What is more immediately necessary than having a gun stuck in your face?” Gill asked.

Assistant Tarrant County District Attorney Ashlea Deener disagreed, attacking Dean for being an incompetent, “power hungry” cop. She told jurors the “safety and sanctity” of their homes were violated by Dean’s decisions.

“If you cannot feel safe in your own home, where can you feel safe?” she asked.

Deener warned that an acquittal on self-defense is wrong because what Dean did was not reasonable or immediately necessary.

“A person does not get to harm another, get on the stand and say I was in fear of my life and we just let them go and take their word for it,” she said. “No single person would ever be held responsible for what they do. That’s not how it works.”

Deener accused Dean of having “preconceived notions” about the high levels of crime in the area. Standing near a projected image of Jefferson and Carr smiling during a meal, Deener described Jefferson’s family as “good people” who Dean swore to serve and protect.

This undated photo provided by Jefferson's family shows Atatiana Jefferson. A white Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed Jefferson through a back window of her home while responding to a call about an open front door acted without justification and resigned Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, before he could be fired, the police chief said. (Jefferson's family via AP)

She claimed Dean’s actions made his fellow police officers look bad.

“They are ashamed that they ever called him a brother, because it means something when you wear that badge,” Deener said.

She dismissed defense claims that Jefferson acted illegally going after her gun, calling it “one of the most fundamental rights” she had.

“We have not heard a single shred of evidence that what Atatiana did was unlawful,” Deener said.

Assistant Tarrant County District Dale Smith told jurors Dean “didn’t even see a gun” when he decided to shoot. He mocked defense claims that the killing was a mere accident, accusing the defendant of being a “gung ho and hard-charging” cop who was finally seeing some action.

“A tragedy? An accident? That’s spilling your milk at breakfast,” he said while standing next to Dean and pointing at him repeatedly. “He could have knocked and Atatiana would still be alive.”

Carr testified last week he did not see his aunt lift the gun up and that it was kept at her hip.

A 911 operator testified last week the welfare check request was coded as an open structure call. Gill told jurors on the first day of trial that Dean did not identify himself because of a general order in place to treat open structure calls as a silent alarm.

Darch defended the rookie pair’s decision to not enter the house. She testified it looked like a burglar may have “methodically” went through the house, but admitted she saw no signs of forced entry.

“If there is a burglar inside, you don’t want them to know you are there and escape,” she told jurors last week.

Dean chose to testify Monday in his own defense and struggled under cross-examination by prosecutors, admitting to several errors and inconsistencies. Smith accused Dean of violating his training by firing his gun without knowing what was behind Jefferson, to which Dean begrudgingly agreed.

Dean also admitted to verbally identifying himself as police in previous suspected burglaries, but not here. He replied “maybe” when asked if Jefferson would still be alive if he identified himself in this case.

Smith asked Dean to grade his performance that night, to which he said “I think I did a fine job.” Audible groans were heard from the courtroom gallery.

Jefferson graduated from Xavier University in New Orleans in 2014 with a biology degree and was reportedly considering medical school at the time of her killing.

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