During opening statements Monday, Dean’s lawyers told jurors that their client feared for his life.
FORT WORTH, Texas — The 11-year-old nephew of Atatiana Jefferson on Monday surprised both prosecutors and defense lawyers when he changed his account of the 2019 fatal shooting of his aunt, telling jurors in the murder trial of Aaron Dean that his aunt did not raise her handgun toward the former Fort Worth police officer.
Dean’s attorneys have said he acted in self defense when he shot Jefferson as she stood in her bedroom window at about 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 12, 2019. He is on trial for Jefferson’s murder.
Dean was one of two officers outside her window responding to an “open structure” call in the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue after a concerned neighbor called on a non-emergency police line reporting that the home’s doors were open and the lights were on, which was unusual.
During opening statements Monday, Dean’s lawyers told jurors that their client feared for his life because Jefferson raised her handgun and pointed it at him through the window.
Carr was the prosecution’s first witness. He said he and his aunt were alone in the house and had cooked hamburgers earlier that evening. They burnt all but one, and opened the doors to air out the smoke in the house. They then stayed up late playing video games, which is why the lights were on in the house, he told jurors.
Carr, a sixth-grader who was eight at the time of the shooting, said at one point, his aunt said she heard a noise outside and got her gun from her purse. He told jurors he wasn’t concerned because his aunt said it might be a raccoon. Carr demonstrated to the jury how his aunt kept her pistol by her side as she walked toward the window to look outside. He said he never heard a shot, just saw his aunt fall down and start crying.
“I was thinking, ‘Is it a dream?’” the child testified.
He dutifully answered questions by both prosecutors and defense counsel Monday morning, but broke into tears during a mid-morning break as he left the courtroom to join his family in a secure area of the courtroom.
At one point, under cross-examination by defense attorney Bob Gill, the child appeared increasingly uncomfortable on the witness stand and began saying he couldn’t remember details of the case. Judge George Gallagher halted testimony, had a brief conference with lawyers, asked the jurors to leave the courtroom, and asked a woman who was sitting near, but not with, Jefferson’s family, to come to the bench. Gallagher asked her about hand gestures she was making to Carr while the child testified. He then swore the woman in as a witness, which barred her from watching any more of the trial, and she left the courtroom.
Outside the jury’s presence, prosecutor Dale Smith told the judge that Carr’s testimony that morning was different than the account he gave to a forensic interviewer immediately after the 2019 shooting three years earlier.
“He did not remember Atatiana Jefferson holding the gun up,” Smith told the judge. “He maintained she kept it down at her waist. In the previous meetings we’ve had with Zion, he had not said that.”
Smith also noted that Carr testified Monday he did not recall seeing a man with a badge outside the window, which was also different than the young man’s previous statements.
“It’s not unusual for children on the stand to say something different,” Smith said.
At one point, after Carr left the witness stand, prosecutors say he told them weeks ago that he had seen the body cam video in the case, and that they weren’t the ones who showed it to him. Dean’s attorneys said they suspect that it was Lee Merritt, a civil rights lawyer representing the Jefferson family.
“I think we know where the influence is coming from,” Brissette told the judge.
Judge Gallagher then asked Merritt to come into the courtroom and reminded the lawyer that he had previously been sworn in as a witness which barred him from talking about the case with anyone. He also asked Merritt not to watch any more of the trial, which he had been doing from an overflow courtroom down the hall.
Dean, who showed no reaction to any of the proceedings Monday, entered a plea before opening statements. “Not guilty, your honor,” the former police officer said.
During her opening statement, prosecutor Ashlea Deener told jurors that Dean never announced he was a police officer when he went to Jefferson’s house, and never mentioned on body cam that he thought she had a gun when he shot her through the window.
“This is murder,” Deener told jurors. “This isn’t self defense.”
Miles Brissette, one of Dean’s lawyers, told jurors that because it was an open structure call and not a welfare check, Dean and his partner followed department rules by not announcing themselves and only looking for evidence of a burglary. He said that when Dean looked through the open front door, he could see the living room in disarray “like it’s been ransacked,” and that the situation seemed like “a burglary in progress.”
Brissette said that Dean saw a silhouette in the bedroom window facing the backyard, and also saw a green laser sight apparently from a gun pointing at him. Brissette said that Carr, who was in the room with his aunt, told a forensic interviewer immediately after the shooting that he recognized a Fort Worth police badge on the person outside the window, that his aunt raised her firearm at Dean and didn’t follow the officer’s verbal commands to show her hands.
Brissette stressed to jurors that they have to consider the facts from Dean’s point of view and what he knew at the time he pulled the trigger – he did not know if the figure in the window was an intruder, and he thought he was about to be shot.
“This is a tragic accident,” Brissette told jurors.
Testimony resumes at 9 a.m. Tuesday on the seventh floor of the Tarrant County criminal courthouse.