Alabama officer convicted of murder for shooting armed, suicidal man which city had ruled justified

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HUNTSVILLE, AL – A Huntsville police officer was convicted of murder by a jury in the shooting of an armed suicidal man which had been ruled justified by a review board.

The Madison County jury shocked the courtroom when they found Officer William Darby guilty of murder on Friday morning. The jury took a little over two hours to deliver the verdict.

The jury had to restart deliberations Friday morning after a juror was removed because of a medical issue and replaced by an alternate. They deliberated for about four and a half hours Thursday.

During a press conference following the verdict, Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard said the jury followed the facts:

“I’m not saying it was a pleasant day. facts bore out there was nothing justified about this encounter.”

Darby’s defense attorney, Robert Tuten, said, “The jury got it wrong” and the verdict “won’t stand”:

“Everyone is shocked by the jury’s verdict. While we appreciate their hard work and will give their verdict the respect that it deserves, we still disagree with their decision.  Officer Ben Darby will appeal this verdict.  Once reviewed at the Appellate level, this verdict will not stand.

“Officer Darby’s case is extremely important to all Alabama Law Enforcement.  This case will clarify Alabama law regarding on-duty police shootings and will impact the way law enforcement protects Alabamians and perform their duties.  We look forward to the appeal of this case.” 

The Huntsville Police Department review board cleared Darby of wrongdoing in May 2018, finding Darby’s conduct in the shooting incident was within department policy.

But the Madison County District Attorney’s office brought the case to a grand jury. The 18-member panel decided there was sufficient evidence to indict Darby for murder. He was arrested on August 3, 2018.

Darby responded to a 911 call reporting a man was armed and suicidal on April 3, 2018. Officers Genisha Peques and Justin Beckles also responded, arriving first.

When the officers arrived at the home, they found Jeffrey Parker, 49, sitting on a couch with a gun to his own head. Pegues and Beckles began talking to Parker, who was still holding a gun to his head.

Body camera video of the incident showed Darby grabbing a shotgun from his patrol vehicle and running into the home.

Darby testified during his trial that he had taken over the situation because Pegues had put herself in danger by not pointing her weapon at Parker and failing to take a cover position.

Darby walked up to the house and shouted for Pegues to “point your fucking 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.

At a hearing in April 2019 on the self-defense claim, Darby testified that Pegues, who was talking with Parker at the scene, was in a vulnerable position and Darby needed to take action to protect her.

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Darby testified that he killed Parker because of the “totality of the circumstances.” He said that after he ordered Parker to drop the gun, he heard Parker say “no” and saw him shrug and shake his head.

Darby testified at his trial that when Parker shrugged, his gun moved. He also testified that Parker “made eye contact,” a move that Darby said he interpreted as threatening behavior, a signal of “imminent” danger.

Dewayne McCarver, a Huntsville police captain, testified during the trial that Darby acted appropriately when he shot and killed Parker. McCarver was the head of the Huntsville Police Department’s training unit when the shooting happened.

He testified that Parker was an “imminent threat” to the officers at his home and that Darby “did what he was supposed to do.”

Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray said the department was “in the first stages of shock” over the guilty verdict:

“While we thank the jury for their service in this difficult case, I do not believe Officer Darby is a murderer. Officers are forced to make split-second decisions every day, and Officer Darby believed his life and the lives of other officers were in danger. Any situation that involves a loss of life is tragic. Our hearts go out to everyone involved.”

The police chief was joined by Mayor Tommy Battle in criticizing the verdict, saying he was hopeful in a successful appeal for the officer:

“We recognize this was a hard case with a lot of technical information to process. Officer Darby followed the appropriate safety protocols in his response on the scene.

“He was doing what he was trained to do in the line of duty. Fortunately, Officer Darby has the same appeal rights as any other citizen and is entitled to exercise those rights.”

The Huntsville City Council also stood by the officer. They voted to provide $125,000 to cover the officer’s legal expenses. In January 2019, as the council approved the funds, Council President Devyn Keith said the money would allow the officer to receive a “reasonable” trial, pointing out that Darby had been cleared by the police review board:

 “We believe this is a reasonable number to have an opportunity for our officer, who again was passed by our own review board, to have a reasonable trial in front of his peers.”

Councilman Will Culver, a  former police officer, said the city had taken the wrong approach and he called for a permanent police legal defense fund:

“Officers need that protection, but it is not something in my opinion that should be left up to elected officials to cherry-pick.”

Culver was the only council member to vote against the funds. He said he is a strong supporter of the police department but favors a broad legal fund that will aid all HPD officers and take the decision out of the hands of elected officials.

Parker’s Family released a statement thanking Broussard’s office:

“We’re extremely grateful for the verdict. We appreciate the District Attorney’s office for their leadership and courage as well as the jury for their service.”

Following the verdict, Circuit Judge Donna Pate ordered that Darby be taken to the Madison County jail from the courtroom. He was released on a $100,000 bond just over two hours later. 

If the conviction stands, Darby faces up to 25 years in prison.

 

 

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