(NEW YORK) — The family of a Black woman who was fatally shot in her home by a former Fort Worth, Texas, police officer in 2019 said they’ve been waiting for justice for over three years.
Atatiana Jefferson’s sister Ashley Carr said it’s “surreal” to finally see the case go to trial.
“We’ve been fighting and fussing about having this day and making sure that accountability is served for my sister’s death,” she told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “But now it’s really here, and it’s a realization that this is not in our control. This is in control of the jurors.”
Opening statements began on Monday in the trial of former police officer Aaron Dean who was charged with murder after fatally shooting Jefferson in her Fort, Worth Texas, home on Oct. 12, 2019. Dean was responding to a concerned neighbor’s request to check on Jefferson’s wellbeing after noticing her house’s front door open at night, police said.
Dean pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Though some of the 12 selected jurors are people of color, none are Black, which drew backlash and prompted protests in 2019.
The trial so far has hinged on the handgun in Jefferson’s hand right before Dean shot her. During opening arguments, his defense attorney, Miles Brissette, argued Dean was acting in self-defense after seeing Jefferson’s silhouette in the window holding a firearm with a green laser pointed directly at him. The prosecution, on the other hand, argued Dean couldn’t have seen her gun in the split second before he opened fire.
The trial’s first witness was Zion Carr, Jefferson’s then 8-year-old nephew who was playing video games and cooking hamburgers with his aunt right before Dean shot her in their house. During questioning, Carr, 11, was asked to recount the traumatic events from that night, testifying that his aunt had never raised the gun from her side.
Brissette declined ABC News’ request for comment.
Ed Kraus, the Fort Worth Police chief at the time of the shooting who has since retired, said in 2019 that Dean’s conduct was in violation of multiple police department policies, including “our use of force policy, our de-escalation policy, and unprofessional conduct.”
“I certainly have not been able to make sense of why she had to lose her life,” Kraus said at the time. “On behalf of the men and women of the Fort Worth Police Department, I’m so sorry for what occurred.”
Jefferson, a pre-medical graduate of Xavier University, is survived by her three siblings: Ashley, Amber and Adarius, who say they’ve been one another’s “support system” their entire lives. Their mother, Yolanda Carr, who died just months after Jefferson’s death, nicknamed her children the “A-Team” because their names all start with the letter A.
“We understand as a family that there is nothing that we can do in this process but be present,” Ashley Carr said. “So our goal is to be present to make sure everyone knows that Atatiana was loved.”
Ashley Carr said she and her family have tried to “keep the momentum” going to ensure Jefferson’s name is not forgotten, including speaking at the White House and U.S. Senate.
“They joined the fight for families all across the country,” Lee Merritt, the family’s attorney, told Good Morning America. “They’ve been a part of a community of activists and organizers who were at the forefront of what became a major moment in history during the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Jefferson’s siblings also started a nonprofit called the Atatiana Project that strives to promote STEAM education and activities among urban youth. They’ve even hosted a free summer camp where kids could build their own computers and robots.
“Our goal is just to amplify how beautiful Atatiana was,” Carr said, remembering her sister as an avid video gamer, animal lover and aspiring medical student. “If you go on our website, we say she didn’t die. She will multiply through the generations that we serve.”
“She was my little sister, but was such a big person,” she added.
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