FORT WORTH, Texas - Former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean was sentenced to 11 years, 10 months and 12 days behind bars for the manslaughter of Atatiana Jefferson.
A Tarrant County jury reached the unanimous decision on the sentence after a day and a half of deliberations.
Dean showed little emotion as the verdict was read in court, but the emotion overflowed from members of Jefferson’s family, giving statements immediately after it was read.
Dean was convicted of manslaughter in the 2019 shooting death of Jefferson earlier this month.
The former officer shot and killed Jefferson through a window while responding to an open structure call at Jefferson's mother's home.
Jefferson’s cousin, Cerese Fortson, and Jefferson’s sister, Ashley Carr, had final words for Dean just moments after the verdict.
"You saw fit to take her from this undeserving world, thinking her light would leave with her. That’s what you thought," Fortson said. "But I want you to go to your cell, knowing that her light is only transferred!"
Afterwards, Dean’s sister was seen speaking with Dean’s attorneys while his parents stood silently behind her. The family left the courtroom together without making any comments to reporters.
James Smith, the neighbor who called the non-emergency number to report the open doors at Jefferson’s mother’s home and a witness in trial, spoke briefly.
"I’m still processing it," he said. "The max is what I was looking for, but we’re satisfied with the verdict."
Prosecutors Ashlea Deener and Dale Smith reflected on trying their first case involving a police shooting.
"It was not our intent to put Fort Worth PD on trial," Smith said. "We put this defendant on trial."
And while both say they would have preferred a murder conviction, they’re satisfied with the roughly 12 hours over the course of two days the jury spent on deliberations.
"They made a thoughtful decision, and this is the cornerstone of the American justice system," Smith said. "And so we really appreciate all of the hard work they did."
Dean must serve at least half of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. And because the jury sentenced him to more than 10 years, he will not be able to get out of prison if he chooses to appeal the conviction.
"Am I relieved that this is over for the family? I am happy that they are happy and relieved," Deener said.
Defense attorneys Bob Gil and Miles Brissette did not address reporters after the sentencing.
Jurors were finally free to go Tuesday afternoon with bags in hand after being sequestered Monday night for a second time during the trial.
The symbolism of their sentence is not lost on both the prosecution and Jefferson’s family and supporters: 11 years for the current age of Jefferson’s nephew, Zion Carr and 10 months and 12 days representing Oct. 12, the day Jefferson was killed.
Jefferson’s family is determined to keep her spirit alive.
"What I'm saying is Aaron Dean, you ain’t stopping nothing. You ain’t stop nothing," Fortson said.
Following the victim impact statements Dean was ordered to be taken into custody of sheriff.
Dean will be granted time-served for the 2019 shooting. He will be eligible for parole in 5 and a half years.
Previous Trial Coverage
On Monday, prosecutors and defense attorneys gave their closing arguments in the punishment phase of the case.
"Her life is worth so much more than a probation sentence," said Tarrant County prosecutor Ashlea Deener.
Deener pointed back to the testimony given during the punishment phase, including a psychologist who screened Dean prior to being hired by the Fort Worth Police Department.
"This is not somebody who thinks he has done anything wrong," Deener said. "The only appropriate verdict is the maximum sentence."
Defense attorney Bob Gil spoke next and looked to humanize Dean.
"He is probably the person least in need of rehabilitation who has ever sat in the defendant's chair," he said.
Gil also argued that the jury's verdict could have an impact on other police across the region.
"This exact situation is an extremely isolated event," Gil said. "There is nothing to gain by sending this man to the penitentiary. No one can punish this man more than he has punished himself."
Prosecutor Dale Smith got the opportunity to close the state's case against Dean.
"The defense attorney told you this was an isolated incident. You know why this is an isolated incident? Because other officers don't act this way," Smith said.
Prosecutors focused on one message: Jefferson’s life is worth more than a probation sentence.
"The only just verdict is 20 years. Anything less is a travesty of justice," Deener said.
"What is Atatiana’s life worth? What are you going to tell her family?" Smith said.
COMPLETE TRIAL COVERAGE:
- Aaron Dean Trial: Prosecutors, defense lay out the case for Aaron Dean's punishment
- Aaron Dean Trial: Psychologist said Dean was 'clearly not suitable' to be an officer before FWPD hire
- Aaron Dean trial: Jury expected to start deliberating sentence Monday
- Aaron Dean found guilty of manslaughter in 2019 killing of Atatiana Jefferson
- Aaron Dean Trial: Emotional reactions after former Fort Worth officer's manslaughter verdict
- Aaron Dean trial: What is the difference between murder and manslaughter?
- Aaron Dean Trial: State, defense deliver passionate closing arguments, jury deliberations begin
- Aaron Dean Trial: Defense, prosecution call expert witnesses to the stand
- 'Was that good police work?': Aaron Dean takes stand, faces intense cross-examination
- Aaron Dean Trial: State rests case after just 3 days in former Fort Worth officer's murder trial
- Aaron Dean Trial Day Two: Police officer's partner takes the stand, call to police played for jury
- Aaron Dean Trial Day One: Atatiana Jefferson's nephew testifies, lawyers give emotional opening statements
Atatiana Jefferson Shooting Timeline
The shooting happened on Oct. 12, 2019.
Atatiana Jefferson was babysitting her 8-year-old nephew at her mother's house.
A neighbor made a non-emergency call to police because a door was open with lights on.
Officer Dean arrived, walked into the backyard and saw Jefferson in a window with her gun in her hand. Dean yelled, "put your hands up! Let me see your hands!" before immediately firing a single shot, killing Jefferson.
The shooting led to protests against the Fort Worth Police Department.