A white former Texas police officer is on trial for shooting a Black woman in her own home in 2019 during a non-emergency check-in about a front door left open.
The opening day of arguments on Monday centred around the testimony of Zion Carr, 11, who watched as Fort Worth Police Department officer Aaron Dean shot his aunt Atatiana Jefferson, seconds after appearing at the back window of the house where they were staying, never identifying himself as a police officer.
“I wasn’t upset, I was confused,” Zion told the court of the 12 October 2019, shooting, The Dallas Morning News reported, “because I didn’t know if … it was a dream and I wasn’t waking up still.”
Mr Dean, who resigned two days after the shooting, was called to the house for a welfare check and let himself into the backyard, where he looked around with a flashlight, before encountering Jefferson at a back window.
At various points during his testimony, the 11-year-old choked up, and could be heard sobbing in a hallway during breaks.
His account of the encounter included moments of lightness and closely argued evidentiary issues.
The jury chuckled, according to the Morning News, when Zion said the open front door, which attracted the police call in the first place, was because he and his beloved aunt “Tay” had been cooking – and burning – hamburgers they planned to eat during a late-night session playing the Call of Duty videogame.
The child also recounted the trauma of watching his aunt “fall to the floor,” after which “she started crying and after that two police officers came and got me.”
“I don’t like talking about what happened,” he said.
Both the prosecution and the defence have closely scrutinised Zion’s recollections of the shooting.
During an initial interview with police, the then-8-year-old said that when his aunt heard the sounds of Mr Dean rustling in, she grabbed a gun in her purse and “raised her handgun, pointed it toward the window, then Jefferson was shot and fell to the ground,” according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
On Monday, while acknowledging it was difficult to remember the exact circumstances of the shooting, Zion told the court his aunt’s gun was at her side.
This distinction matters, because the murder charges will largerly hinge on whether Mr Dean, the officer, had reason to believe his life was in danger before firing the single shot that killed Jefferson.
Prosecutors argue that the officer had no cause to believe Jefferson was a threat and used unreasonable force.
“This is not a self-defense case — this is murder,” prosecutor Ashlea Deener said. “Your home is supposed to be the one place on earth that you get to go to be safe, to seek shelter, to seek refuge. But for Atatiana Jefferson, her home was not her refuge, it was not her sanctuary or her safe place — it was her demise.”
Meanwhile, Mr Dean, who has pleaded not guilty, and his defence, claim that Jefferson in fact was pointing a gun at the officer’s face when he warned her to put her hands up, seconds before firing.
"This case is about facts, and not emotions," defence attorney Mike Brissette said. "That gun was relevant. Everyone in Texas, everyone in the United States has the right to defend themselves in their home. This is a tragic accident. Tragically, Ms Jefferson lost her life."
The attorney said his client had a gun with “a green laser mounted on it pointing directly at him.”
Mr Dean could face a life sentence if convicted.