Former Fort Worth police officer who Atatiana Jefferson, 28 years old, shot dead at her home in 2019, she was not seen holding a gun for a split second before shooting at her through the back window, prosecutors said in the opening statement of her murder trial. him on Monday.
“This is not a situation where they are staring at the barrel of a gun and he has to defend himself against that person or to protect his partner,” Tarrant District Attorney Ashlea Deener said. “The evidence will prove that he did not see the gun in her hand. This is not an excuse. This is not a case of self-defense. This is murder.”
However, defense attorney for former officer Aaron Dean said he saw an armed figure with a green laser pointed at him and then found a gun lying next to Jefferson’s body.
Attorney Miles Brissette said: “In that window he saw a figure. “He didn’t know if it was male or female, he didn’t know the racial makeup of the silhouette. He saw it, he saw the green laser and the gun pointed at him. He took half a step back, gave the order, and fired his weapon.”
Contrasting opening statements made at the start of a trial will address acute issues of race, police violence, gun rights and camera footage.
Dean, the white man, pleaded not guilty murder for killing Jefferson, who is Black, after opening fire on her home in October 2019 in front of her young grandson. Charges can result in sentences ranging from 5 to 99 years.
The shooting took place after police arrived at Jefferson’s home around 2:25 a.m. on October 12, 2019, after a neighbor reported her door was open in the middle of the night. The neighbor called the non-emergency police number to request a safety check at Jefferson’s home.
Deener, the prosecutor, emphasized that Dean and his partner did not identify themselves as police officers when they searched Jefferson’s home. Jefferson pulled out his gun because he heard noises outside and saw a flashlight in his backyard.
“She didn’t know it was someone to serve and protect,” Deener said.
Brissette, the defense attorney, said officers were treating the situation more like a potential robbery in progress and not, as previously reported, as a welfare check, so they did not announce his presence. He described the shooting as a “catastrophic accident” but a “reasonable accident” for someone in Dean’s position.
Thoroughly edited camera footage released to the public shows an officer peering through two open doors, but he does not knock or announce his presence. Instead, he walked around the house for about a minute. Finally, the officer approached a window and shone a flashlight into what appeared to be a dark room.
“Hands up! Show me your hands!” The officer yelled before firing a single shot, according to side-camera footage.
The prosecution’s first witness was Zion Carr, 8 years old and in the bedroom with her “aunt Tay” when she was shot.
Now 11, he testified that they accidentally burned burgers the night before, so they opened the door to blow the smoke out of the house.
He and his aunt were playing video games late into the night when Jefferson heard a commotion outside, and then she rummaged through her purse for her gun, he testified. He did not see her point the gun towards the window, he testified.
Zion said he didn’t hear or see anything outside the window, but he saw his aunt fall to the ground and start crying.
“I thought, ‘Is that a dream?’” he testified. “She was crying and shaking.”
He was confused by what had happened and only later learned his aunt had been killed. “I am very sad,” he said.
Prosecutors noted in court that some of his statements differed from previous statements he gave to a police investigator. Upon cross-checking, Zion said he doesn’t remember the previous statement.
Zion suffers post traumatic stress disorderMerritt said.
The trial is expected to last about two weeks, and judge George Gallagher ordered a gag. Monday’s trial date will be shortened so that everyone can attend the funeral of lead defense attorney Jim Lane, who died suddenly in late November.
The shooting was widely condemned, with the National Association of Black Police saying in a statement that the killings of Black citizens by white officers had “reached a serious level”.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price at the time said the killing of Jefferson was unjustified and “unacceptable.”
Police initially said the officer opened fire after “noticing a threat”. Police provided medical care after the shooting, according to police.
Police said they found a gun when they entered the room where Jefferson died. Video released by police shows two almost blurred clips that appear to show a gun inside the home.
Police said Dean, 34 at the time of the shooting, was hired in August 2017 and appointed a licensed officer in April 2018.
Two days after the shooting, Dean resigned from the police force and was arrested and charged with murder, the crime for which he was prosecuted in December 2019.
The day after Dean was arrested, Lane told CNN His client is “sorry and his family is in shock.”
According to a lawyer for the Jefferson family, Jefferson was trying to protect his nephew from what they both saw as a snoop.
Family attorney S. Lee Merritt said at the time that she had moved into her ailing mother’s home in Fort Worth a few months earlier to care for her. She also takes care of her grandsons.
Jefferson graduated from Louisiana’s Xavier University in 2014 with a degree in biology and worked in the sales of pharmaceutical equipment, according to her family’s attorney.
The soon-to-be graduate, known as “Tay,” is hailed as a loving, caring, and reliable aunt who has accomplished much in life.
Since her death, family members said they have struggled to watch videos of other police killings.
Jefferson’s father, Marquis Jefferson, suffered a cardiac arrest and died in November 2019, just weeks after Dean fatally shot his daughter. He was 59.
Jefferson’s mother, Yolanda carr, died at his home in Fort Worth in January 2020 after falling ill, according to Merritt. Carr was ill and was unable to attend his daughter’s funeral.
Instead, Pastor Jaime Kowlessar read a letter from Carr at the ceremony.
“You often say you will change the world,” Carr writes. “I think you still will.”