Ala. officer convicted of murder sentenced to 25 years in shooting

William Darby, a former Huntsville officer, testified that he had shot an armed, suicidal man in self defense


By Ashley Remkus
al.com

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — William Ben Darby, the Huntsville police officer convicted of murder for shooting and killing Jeff Parker, was sentenced today to 25 years in prison.

Court security officers took 28-year-old Darby to the Madison County jail from Circuit Judge Donna Pate’s courtroom after the hearing. Darby is not eligible for an appeal bond, so he will begin serving his sentence immediately.

Huntsville police officer William Ben Darby took the stand in his own defense during his murder trial at the Madison County Courthouse in downtown Huntsville, Ala. on May 5, 2021.
Huntsville police officer William Ben Darby took the stand in his own defense during his murder trial at the Madison County Courthouse in downtown Huntsville, Ala. on May 5, 2021. (Lee Roop | lroop)

A Madison County jury on May 7 found Darby guilty of murder for shooting and killing Parker, a 49-year-old man threatening suicide, three years ago.

Robert Tuten, Darby’s defense attorney, said they will appeal the case immediately.

“This is obviously an extremely important case — not only for Ben and his family, not only for the Parker family — but for law enforcement in the state of Alabama,” Tuten said at a press conference after the hearing. “This case is going to have a huge impact on how police officers enforce the law and how they do their jobs.”

Tim Gann, chief deputy district attorney in Madison County, said no one in his office wanted to prosecute a police officer.

“I think that’s the worst thing we face is making that decision,” he said, “because we do understand it’s a dangerous job, we do understand that they’re in harms way.”

But Darby’s actions were “so far out of the norm that he’s got to be held accountable for that,” Gann said.

“This is not about training,” he said. “He (Darby) was trained properly. This is about going outside of the training and violating Alabama law.”

Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Darby to at least 25 years in prison. Defense attorneys asked for 20 years, the minimum sentence under Alabama law.

“Mr. Darby has been unwilling to admit that what he did was wrong that day,” Gann told the judge during the hearing.

Darby testified at the hearing, telling Pate, “I’m asking for mercy, I’m asking for leniency.” Darby’s testimony followed a series of character witnesses including his wife, father and pastor.

Darby told the judge that after the shooting he couldn’t sleep well and that he would wake up in the middle of the night seeing Parker’s face.

“I believe it is evident I didn’t want to kill him,” he said.

Darby remained on the Huntsville city payroll for more than two months after his conviction, until he resigned in late July.

The case has divided city and county leaders from the beginning. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and police Chief Mark McMurray defended Darby, saying the shooting was justified and that the officer followed police department policy.

At Battle’s urging, the Huntsville City Council voted to spend up to $125,000 in public money for Darby’s criminal defense. In 2018, when approving the first $75,000 in support, the city resolution said Darby’s shooting was “within the line and scope of his duty.” The council voted without seeing the bodycam footage.

Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard’s office saw the case differently. After Darby’s conviction, Broussard said the evidence “was off the charts. He was not justified in any way.”

Darby was on duty the afternoon of April 3, 2018 when Parker called 911 and said that he was armed and suicidal.

When the first two officers got to Parker’s west Huntsville home, they found him sitting on a couch with a gun to his own head. The first officer, Genisha Pegues, testified against Darby at trial and told the jury that she was de-escalating the situation before he got there.

Darby testified that he shot Parker in defense of himself and other officers because he feared Parker might shoot them.

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Body camera video showed Darby grab a shotgun from his patrol car and sprint to the house. Less than a minute later, he shot Parker in the face. Darby testified that he had to take over the situation from Pegues, a senior officer, because he believed she was putting herself in danger by talking to Parker.

Darby walked up to the house and shouted for Pegues to “point your fu**ing gun at him,” bodycam video showed. Darby repeatedly shouted for Parker to drop his gun. Darby fired the fatal shot 11 seconds after entering the house, according to the video.

Parker’s family spoke at a press conference on the courthouse steps after the hearing. Martin Weinberg, an attorney, representing the family in a civil suit against the city and Darby, said they were pleased with the sentence.

“Jeff was in a mental state,” said Bill Parks, Parker’s best friend. “Jeff had issues. Jeff asked for help and it’s very confusing to think that’s by the book, apparently, for  Huntsville police, it’s OK to barge in ferociously, militantly, yelling and screaming at someone who had asked for help. To say he was showing an imminent threat to the police, Genisha Pegues showed that was not the case.”

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