Former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean’s sentencing in the 2019 killing of Atatiana Jefferson is a message that “no one is above the law,” legal experts said. 

Dean was sentenced to 11 years, 10 months and 12 days in prison in a unanimous jury decision on Dec. 20. Five days prior, on Dec. 15, the same jury found Dean guilty of manslaughter. 

Dean is the first officer charged with murder and taken to trial in Tarrant County, said former Tarrant County prosecutor and criminal defense attorney Albert Roberts

The jury’s sentence was a deliberate move to prevent Dean from receiving probation and sends a message that there will be accountability, he said. 

“The message that the jury seems to have sent with that verdict — because they’ve deliberated on this case for hours, for days — is that they did not want to see Atatiana Jefferson’s life lost,” Roberts said. “But the message that we hopefully send to police officers, good or bad, is that there will be accountability, even for police officers.”

The jury’s decision to convict Dean of manslaughter over murder drew sharp reactions from the community at large. The family of Jefferson was hoping for a murder conviction, which carries a five- to 99-year sentence with no probation. 

Manslaughter carries between two to 20 years with a possibility for probation. 

Lesa Pamplin, a criminal defense lawyer, told reporters shortly after the sentence was handed down that this decision by the jury is going to calm down a lot of things that could’ve happened.

“This is a step forward. This feels like a weight lifted off because for three years obviously the community, the whole city, has just been thinking and waiting for that,” she said. “Every obstacle, every roadblock was put in a way for three and a half years. It’s gonna be a sigh of relief going into the holidays with this man being in prison and not sitting down with his family.”

Pamplin told the Fort Worth Report that the symbolism of the sentencing – 11 years, 10 months and 12 days – is a nod to Jefferson’s nephew, Zion, who is now 11 and the date of the incident on Oct. 12, 2019. 

She called this verdict “a baby step.”

“We have to be happy that this jury, no matter what people said about the racial makeup of this jury — this jury was in tune to what happened,” she said. 

The 11-year sentence provides no sense of satisfaction, Roberts said. He notes that former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who was found guilty of murder in the killing of Botham Jean in 2018, only received a 10-year prison sentence

“I don’t think the community has a sense of satisfaction with an 11-year sentence, but I will say more so than anything, this community deserves some closure,” Roberts said. “(Atatiana Jefferson’s) family has gone through traumatic event after traumatic event.” 

While the criminal proceeding may have concluded in Tarrant County, the case is far from over, Roberts said. Jefferson’s family also has filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Fort Worth for “excessive use of force by a municipality.” That case is currently still pending in court.

These cases are often settled, Roberts said. 

“Ultimately what they’re trying to do is they’re going to try to find out who’s liable. Is there liability?” he said. “There’s no dollar amount, just like there’s no number of years, that will bring Atatiana back. However, her family who’s seeking civil damages, which is going to be monetary damages, is entitled to some type of relief.”

Dean could also appeal the case to the Texas Second Court of Appeals to determine whether the judge and lawyers properly heard and defended the case. Beyond that, the case could also be heard by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. 

“If they do find something wrong with the case, they could send the case right back down to the trial court and you’d start everything possibly all over again,” Roberts said.“What if they find something in the guilt-innocence phase, or they find something in the punishment phase? It kind of just depends.”

Dean’s case has already been appealed to the Texas Second Court of Appeals, Roberts said. 

Due to the nature of the crime, Dean is required to serve at least half of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. Presiding Judge George Gallagher informed Dean during his sentencing that he will be receiving credit for the time he has served in custody since the day of his arrest. 

He will not be eligible for parole until May 2028.

For a list of statements from other Fort Worth leaders and organizations, click here.

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at or follow her on Twitter at @ssadek19

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Sandra SadekBusiness Reporter

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. Originally from Houston, she graduated from Texas State University where she studied journalism and international...