By Harriet Ramos
Source Fort Worth Star-Telegram
It is believed to be the first time an officer or former officer in Tarrant County has been convicted of a killing committed while on duty. The sentencing phase of the trial is scheduled for Friday morning. The conviction carries a possible penalty of two to 20 years in prison, but jurors could recommend probation. According to the Tarrant County Jail log, Dean was taken into custody after the verdict.
Dean, who is white, was indicted on a charge of murder in the death of Jefferson, who was Black. Judge George Gallagher told jurors they could consider the lesser offense of manslaughter.
Jurors began deliberating about 11:15 a.m. Wednesday and left for the night just before 7 p.m. They resumed deliberations about 8:30 a.m. Thursday and had been weighing the case for a total of more than 13 hours when they stopped about 2 p.m. Their verdict was delivered shortly after 2:30 p.m.
Supporters of Jefferson’s family gathered in the hallway outside the courtroom were upset that the verdict wasn’t murder. Some began to chant, “No justice, no peace!” and someone yelled out, “What is wrong with Fort Worth?”
Family friend and activist Olinka Green yelled, “This is murder!”
“If I had killed a cat I’d’ve been locked up for the rest of my life,” Green told the Star-Telegram. “I probably [would] get the chair. It means white privilege. This is Texas. Everyone expected him to go home. They let a murderer walk free, a white man walk free. This is a token. No one is happy.”’
Southside Community Garden founder Patrice Jones said what Dean did was murder.
“I’m heartbroken,” she told the Star-Telegram. “I’m angry.”
Bishop Mark Kirkland, an activist and pastor with Greater St. Mark Ministries in Fort Worth, said the odds were stacked against Dean being convicted of murder, but he was still disappointed by the verdict.
“A privileged white male killed a Black woman,” he told the Star-Telegram.
Kirkland said the case had just continued to get pushed back until right before the Christmas season. He thinks the city of Fort Worth expects the Black community to move on with their holiday celebration and forget about Jefferson.
“There’s a new watch in town,” he said, adding that they aren’t done yet.
Fort Worth resident Tommy Tisby said in some ways the verdict brought a sense of relief in that Dean wasn’t found “not guilty.” Tisby never knew Jefferson, but he said what the case represents is important to him.
“If anything could happen to her, it could happen to anyone else,” he said.
For the second straight day on Thursday, more than two dozen people lined the wooden seats outside of the 396th District Court in the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center waiting for the jury to decide the verdict.
Liz Badgley, 32, the secretary for the Fort Worth-based advocacy group United My Justice, told the Star-Telegram she had been at the trial every day it was in session over the past two weeks.
“It’s very emotional and taxing,” she said. “I can’t imagine how the family feels.”
Badgley’s overall impression of the trial was that “it feels a little rushed.”
Many people scrolled on their phones or chatted with those around them. One young man played games on a Nintendo Switch as he waited.
Two doughnut boxes set on a table at the end of the hall, and as lunch time came around, bags of fast food appeared.
When the word came down that the verdict was in, the crowd surged toward the courtroom door and scrambled to turn in their electronic devices.
Chants of “Black women matter!” could be heard in the hallway outside the courtroom just before the verdict was read.
The mood inside the courtroom was solemn as Judge George Gallagher prepared to call in the jury.
“I have appreciated everything you have done throughout the trial,” he said to those seated in the gallery, but added that he would not permit any outbursts in the courtroom.
Two of Jefferson’s siblings, Ashley Carr and Adarius Carr, sat side by side in the front row as the verdict was read. They left the courtroom holding hands as soon as the jury was dismissed.
Dean sat silently, staring forward. His family hugged him and also left the courthouse without commenting.
Outside the courthouse, a small group supporting justice for Jefferson followed members of Dean’s family as they walked to a parking lot. The group chanted, “No justice, no peace,” and one man shouted, “That’s the real Fort Worth telling y’all how they feel.”
Dean was responding to a neighbor’s call about open doors at Jefferson’s home on East Allen Avenue about 2:30 a.m. and has said he thought a burglary might have been in progress. Dean testified on Monday that he saw Jefferson point a gun directly at him through the window before he shot her, and his attorneys tried to show that he acted in self-defense.
Prosecutors presented evidence, including body-camera video, to show that Dean never said he saw a gun, didn’t identify himself as an officer and didn’t give Jefferson time to respond to his commands to put her hands up. Prosecutors and defense attorneys made their closing arguments Wednesday morning.
In the three years since the shooting, Jefferson’s family and many in the community have called for justice and criticized delays in the case of a white officer who killed a Black woman. None of the jurors in the case are Black, though several are people of color. In the selection process, the jury pool is numbered and the court accepts the first 12, plus two alternates, who attorneys believe can decide the case fairly.
During the course of the six-day trial, jurors heard testimony from Atatiana Jefferson’s nephew Zion Carr and her sister Ashley Carr. In a surprising move, Dean took the stand Monday as the first witness to testify in his own defense.
Reaction to the verdict
Mayor Mattie Parker said the verdict provides “a measure of justice,” but doesn’t change the tragedy that happened to Jefferson and her family.
“This tragedy for me has always been about Atatiana Jefferson,” Parker said in an emailed statement. “About her life as a daughter, sister, and aunt, and her lasting legacy. Many people in our community are hurting, and we must come together with compassion and grace. Our prayers are with the jury as they continue their service in the sentencing phase. May God bless Atatiana’s memory and continue to be with her family.”
An unidentified activist group left a casket — painted with the names of Jefferson and other people killed by Fort Worth police — on the lawn outside Parker’s home on Saturday.
Estella Williams, president of the Fort Worth Tarrant County NAACP, said in a statement that officers and members of the branch expressed relief that justice was served.
“We’re optimistic that this decision may represent a paradigm shift, where we begin to overcome racial and social injustices locally, regionally, and nationally that have been pervasive in policing,” Williams said. “Whatever you feel about today’s verdict, it’s another reminder of how much more we have to do to heal as a nation.”
U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth urged the city of Fort Worth to create a civilian police review board (the city council, including Parker, rejected a proposed advisory board in November) and called on the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The legislation would make it easier for the federal government to prosecute police misconduct cases, eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement and ban the use of chokeholds and no-knock warrants by federal officers.
“I proudly supported this critical legislation that addresses racial bias and increases accountability within police departments to build trust between law enforcement and the communities like the ones in Fort Worth,” Veasey said in a statement.
Bishop Michael Olson, of the Diocese of Fort Worth, said in a statement issued before the verdict that the case “should prompt our community not to be indifferent to Atatiana’s death but to face our fears and to resolve to work together on addressing such pressing social and moral issues as race, gun violence, police security, and the rule of law for the common good and protection of the vulnerable of our community.”
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