Aaron Dean trial: What is the difference between murder and manslaughter?

Former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean was found guilty of manslaughter for the killing of Atatiana Jefferson in 2019.

The jury settled on the lesser charge of manslaughter for Dean, rather than murder.

Dean shot Atatiana Jefferson in her mother's home on Oct. 12, 2019 while responding to an open structure call.

Dean testified that he saw Jefferson point a gun at him through a window and shot her in self-defense.

Prosecutors argued that Dean did not follow proper training.


Judge George Gallagher gave the jury three options in his instructions prior to deliberations on Wednesday: not guilty, guilty of murder or guilty of manslaughter.

So what is the difference between manslaughter and murder, and how long could Dean spend behind bars? We looked to the Texas Penal Code for answers.

Manslaughter Definition

Manslaughter is a second-degree felony in Texas. According to the Texas Penal Code a person commits manslaughter if they "recklessly cause the death of an individual".

Manslaughter vs. Murder

While manslaughter is a second-degree felony, murder is a first-degree felony.

According to the Texas Penal Code, a person commits murder when they:

  • Intentionally or knowingly cause the death of an individual
  • Intend to cause serious bodily injury and commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual
  • Commit or attempt to commit a felony, other than manslaughter, and in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempt, or in immediate flight from the commission or attempt, they commit or attempt to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual.

Murder is punishable by five to 99 years in prison.

Basically to prove murder, prosecutors must show beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect intended to cause harm to their victim.

Texas Manslaughter Sentencing Guidelines

Under Texas law the penalty for manslaughter is between two and 20 years in prison along with a fine of up to $10,000.

There are some circumstances in which a person convicted of manslaughter could receive probation.

The punishment phase in the trial will begin on Friday.

Judge Gallagher will likely decide the sentencing, but the defendant has a right to have a jury decide the sentence as well.

Both the prosecution and defense will make opening and closing statements and can call witnesses as a part of the punishment phase.