A former Fort Worth police officer accused of shooting and killing a woman inside her home earlier this year has been indicted for murder.
A Texas grand jury handed down the indictment Friday against Aaron Dean in the Oct. 12 shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson, station NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth reported. Jefferson, a 28–year–old pre-med graduate student, was home playing video games with her nephew when she was killed.
Dean already had been arrested on murder charges following the shooting, but in Texas all felony defendants have a right to have their case presented to a grand jury to determine if an indictment is warranted.
At a news conference Friday, the victim’s family expressed “relief” at news of Dean’s indictment. The family’s lawyer, Lee Merritt, tweeted that while they’re satisfied with the charge, they “remain cautious [that] a conviction and appropriate sentence is still a long way away.”
Jefferson’s mother, who’s been hospitalized with congestive heart failure since before her daughter’s tragic death, spoke with local media via Skype for the first time last week. Through tears, Yolanda Carr talked about the pain of not having her daughter here for the holidays.
“Even though I know we have a long way to go, at least we got the charge on him that he murdered my baby,” Carr told NBC 5.
Merritt and Justin Moore, another of the family’s attorneys told local outlets Friday that the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office should hand the case to a special prosecutor.
“We don’t need anyone with any ties to that police department or any law enforcement agency in the area,” Moore said, according to WFAA-TV.
In the weeks following Jefferson’s death, prosecutors in Tarrant County said they had enough evidence to request a grand jury indictment and vowed to “prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law.”
Dean would resign from the Fort Worth Police Department prior to his arrest, days after the incident.
The then-officer and his partner responded the home, which belonged to Jefferson’s mother, in the wee hours of Oct. 12 after a concerned neighbor called the non-emergency line to request a welfare check, noting the doors to Jefferson’s home were open and all the lights were on.
Fort Worth police later clarified that the officers were actually responding to an “open structure call,” and thus did not announce themselves when they arrived.
Publicly released bodycam video shows an officer searching the outside of the home with a flashlight before entering what appears to be a backyard. At one point, he turns to flash his light on a window after spotting someone on the inside.
The officer is heard demanding, “Put your hands up, show me your hands!” before a single shot rings out.
Jefferson’s nephew, Zion, told investigators his aunt grabbed a gun from her purse and aimed it at the window after hearing noises outside, according to an arrest affidavit. Authorities have said the young woman was well within her rights to protect herself, considering she didn’t know who was prowling outside her home.
Interim police Chief Ed Kraus decried the incident, saying there was “absolutely no excuse” for Jefferson’s killing.
Since the shooting, Fort Worth authorities said Dean has been uncooperative and refused to speak with investigators. An arrest affidavit states that the then-officer declined an interview with detectives in the immediate aftermath of the fatal shooting.
“He resigned before his opportunity to be cooperative,” Kraus said of the former officer, who also declined to give a written statement.
Last month, a judge presiding over Dean’s case issued a gag order surrounding the proceedings, preventing anyone connected to the case from discussing it publicly.
A trial date hasn’t been announced.