Texas Officer Sentenced to Nearly 12 Years in Fatal Shooting through a Window

gun on a table surrounded by bullets

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According to the Texas Tribune, Aaron Dean – a former Fort Worth police officer – was convicted in December 2022 of manslaughter for the 2019 shooting of 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson, who was babysitting her 8-year-old nephew in her mother’s home at the time.

The jury’s deliberations took two days, and while the more serious murder charge was rejected, the manslaughter charge held. The sentence for manslaughter in Texas is between 2 and 20 years, and Dean was ultimately sentenced to 11 years and 10 months behind bars.

If you are facing a criminal charge of any kind, do not wait to reach out and consult with an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney for the professional legal guidance you seek.

The Call for a Wellness Check

The shooting in question happened when Dean was responding to a call – made by a neighbor of Jefferson’s mother to a non-emergency police line – requesting a wellness check because several of the home’s doors were left open, which the neighbor deemed unusual.

However, instead of responding in accordance with procedures for wellness checks, which begin with a knock on the door, the responding officers implemented the procedure used for open structure calls.

Open structure calls, according to Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus, require officers to park away from the house and to proceed with caution. The reasoning behind the officers’ decision to move forward with open structure call procedures rather than with wellness check procedures remains unclear.

The Police Chief Weighs is

Just days after the fatal shooting, Dean resigned from the force. In a press conference following his resignation, Kraus apologized to Jefferson’s family and the community at large. He stated, “Had the officer not resigned, I would have fired him for violations of several policies, including our use-of-force policy, our de-escalation policy, and unprofessional conduct.”

“Is it a dream?”

Jefferson was a recent graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana who sold medical pharmaceutical equipment and planned to become a doctor. When she was shot, her eight year-old nephew was in the room with her. When testifying at Dean’s murder trial, her nephew responded to a question about his thoughts at the moment of the shooting by saying, “I was thinking, is it a dream?”

The Shooting

Dean testified that he responded in the manner he did because he believed that a burglary was taking place at the home and that, when he made his way to the backyard, he saw a gun pointing at him through the window. At trial, experts for both the prosecution and the defense offered contrasting assessments of the shooting.

His dashcam confirmed that he walked to the rear of the house, turned toward the window, yelled, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” and, within seconds, shot through the window.

Further Details

The New York Times shares additional details about this shooting, including the following facts:

  • The concerned neighbor who called the non-emergency police line did so in response to several of the doors in Jefferson’s home being open late at night, which Jefferson had left open to help ventilate lingering smoke caused by accidentally burning hamburgers.

  • When Jefferson heard the noise created by the officer in her backyard, she grabbed the gun she kept in her bag and went to her bedroom window, which overlooked the backyard.

  • At this point, Dean yelled instructions at her before immediately shooting a single fatal bullet through the bedroom window, which was confirmed by his body camera footage.

In a victim statement, Jefferson’s sister relayed that, while her home should have been “the safest place for her to be,” it ended up being “the most dangerous.” Jefferson’s father died at the age of 58 from heart complications and cardiac arrest about a month after her death, and a hospital spokesman attributed his death to the stress brought on by his immense loss.

Dean’s Background

The New York Times reports that, prior to joining the Fort Worth Police Department, a screening psychologist deemed Dean unfit to be an officer based on the following assessments:

  • Dean minimized his own behaviors and denied his own flaws.

  • Dean had an unrealistic view of himself.

Dean went on to appeal the finding and, after further evaluations, joined the force.

The Element of Race

This shooting came on the heels of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger’s sentence for the murder of a 26-year-old man in his own apartment. While the officer said she had mistaken his apartment for hers, she actually lived a floor below him. Upon entering the young man’s apartment, the officer shot and killed him.

In conjunction with George Floyd’s death by a Minneapolis officer, the escalating challenges concerning race, policing, and the American criminal justice system have been called under considerable scrutiny – the officers in each of these cases are white, while the victims were all black.

Manslaughter Charges in Texas

The State of Texas defines manslaughter as recklessly causing someone else's death. For the act to rise to the level of recklessness, the perpetrator of the crime must have not only been aware of the risk inherent to their conduct or of the fact that their conduct could prove fatal but also disregarded this concern by proceeding with the reckless action in question.

The Prosecution’s Burden

To be convicted of manslaughter in Texas, none of the following need to be proven by the prosecution:

  • The defendant’s intention

  • Premeditation on the part of the defendant

  • The defendant's knowledge of the exact situation

Instead, the prosecution must prove that the defendant acted recklessly and that the recklessness caused someone else to lose their life.

No Distinction between Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter in Texas

Unlike many other states, Texas does not explicitly distinguish between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter means the perpetrator had the means, intent, and motivation to kill the victim. In contrast, involuntary manslaughter refers to killing someone else due to one’s reckless behavior without having any intention of doing so.

Intoxication Manslaughter

Texas is the only state that has a specific charge for intoxication manslaughter. If the reckless behavior of the defendant in question was drunk driving that resulted in the death of someone else, they can be charged with intoxication manslaughter, which can lead to the same level of charge and the same penalties as a manslaughter charge.

While there is no specific Texas statute that addresses vehicular manslaughter, such charges can arise when a driver’s recklessness causes someone else to lose their life.

Penalties for a Manslaughter Conviction

Manslaughter in Texas is a second-degree felony, which can lead to a prison sentence of up to 20 years and to fines of up to $10,000. Each case, however, is determined in relation to the totality of the circumstances involved.

Criminally Negligent Homicide

When a defendant knew or should have known that their actions were risky and could prove fatal, but proceeded anyway, it is known as a criminally negligent homicide in Texas. Even if the defendant claims not to have recognized the risk involved, they can be convicted if a reasonable person in the same circumstances would have recognized the risk.

Common examples of criminally negligent homicide include the following behaviors:

  • Leaving a child alone in a car on a dangerously hot day

  • Causing accidents driving recklessly

  • Participating in or planning dangerous college hazing incidents

  • Physical fighting

  • Failing to call 911 in a clear emergency

Criminally negligent homicide does not involve intent on the part of the defendant, but it is still a serious charge. A conviction for criminally negligent homicide in Texas is a state jail felony. State jail felonies are the lowest felony charges, but a conviction carries up to $10,000 in fines, a sentence of up to 2 years in jail, and a damaging permanent record.

Murder Charges in Texas

Many states address murder charges in terms of degree that include first degree, second degree, and third degree, but Texas is not one of these states. Texas addresses murder charges only in terms of murder, which many other states term second-degree murder, and capital murder, which many other states term first-degree murder.


Murder charges require proving that the defendant had the necessary intention and either knowingly caused the death of another, intended to cause serious bodily harm that led to the death of another, or killed someone during the commission or attempted commission of a felony.

A murder charge is a first-degree felony charge in every instance except those in which the defendant can prove that their actions were a crime of passion. The murder charge may be reduced to a second-degree felony if the defendant can demonstrate that the crime in question was committed in the heat of the moment, which left them unable to reasonably reflect on the actions that followed.

Sentencing for a second-degree felony conviction in Texas carries from 2 to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. Sentencing for a murder conviction – a first-degree felony – however, can carry a life sentence or imprisonment for not more than 99 years and not less than 5 years – along with fines of up to $10,000.

Capital Murder

Capital murder is also a first-degree felony charge, and it is the most serious charge you can face in the State of Texas. Capital murder, in fact, is the only charge that is punishable by death. The distinction between murder and capital murder in Texas generally comes down to the circumstances involved

In order for a charge of capital murder to apply, one of the following elements must be present:

  • The defendant knew that the victim in question was a police officer who was in the line of duty at the time.

  • The murder happened during the commission of or the attempted commission of a felony, such as burglary, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, arson, terroristic threat, or obstruction or retaliation.

  • The murder was for payment or the promise of payment, which means both the person who committed the crime and the person who hired them to commit the crime can face capital murder charges.

  • The murder was committed by someone who was incarcerated and acting in conjunction with organized crime.

  • The murder was committed by someone who was incarcerated for specific aggravated felonies that include aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, or aggravated sexual assault.

  • The murder happened during an escape or attempted escape from a Texas penal institution.

  • The victim was under the age of 10.

  • The defendant murdered more than one person at one time, such as in a mass shooting, or over the course of different criminal actions, such as gang murders or murders committed by a serial killer.

  • The victim was a judge or justice, and the murder was in retaliation against their services in that capacity.

It’s Time to Consult with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney

Every criminal charge is serious, but if you are facing a manslaughter or murder charge, the matter is even more weighty, which makes having professional counsel on your side strongly advised.

If you find yourself in this difficult position, Brett Pritchard atThe Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, has a wealth of experience helping clients like you obtain advantageous case outcomes and is ready to help.

Your case is important, and our legal team has the legal insight and drive to help – so please do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 for more information about what we can do for you today.