Huntsville police officer facing murder charge wants appeals court to overrule Madison County judge

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The murder case involving a Huntsville police officer is on hold while an Alabama appeals court considers his claim of self-defense.

Officer William Darby has argued he was acting in self-defense and protecting fellow officers when he shot the apparently suicidal Jeffrey Parker in April 2018 at Parker’s home on Deramus Avenue.

Darby’s attorneys filed a petition with the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals arguing Madison County Circuit Judge Donna Pate erred in ruling that Darby was not acting in self-defense at the time of the shooting. They want the appeals court to overrule Pate and grant Parker immunity from prosecution – basically ending the case – based on the self-defense claim.

In the petition filed April 15, the defense argues, “officers are not required to wait until the armed subject points his gun at officers to use deadly force.”

The defense also argued Darby had specialized training.

“One should realize that these events occurred in a matter of seconds,” the filing argued. “The Petitioner's mental state and reasonableness should be judged not as an average, ordinary person, but as a highly trained police officer with specialized threat assessment and officer survival training, skills and experience.”

The Huntsville Police Department cleared Darby in the shooting, but the Madison County District Attorney’s office brought the case to a grand jury which indicted him in August 2018. Darby filed for an immunity hearing, essentially arguing that because he acted in self-defense, the murder charge should be dismissed.

A hearing was held last month, Darby testified he acted to save the lives of his fellow officers and himself when he approached Parker – who was holding a gun to his own head – and ordered him three times to put the weapon down. Parker refused to comply and Darby killed him with a shotgun blast.

Officers had responded to Parker’s home after he called 911 and reported that he planned to blow his brains out. Two officers were on the scene when Darby arrived and Darby testified at his immunity hearing that one of the officers was in a vulnerable position standing in front of Parker without cover and her weapon down.

Prosecutors argued that although Parker was armed, he made no threatening moves or expressed any hostility to officers indicating they were in imminent danger. They argued Darby escalated the situation.

Following the hearing last month, Judge Pate rejected officer Darby’s self-defense argument, setting the stage for a trial.

Because of the hearing, both sides got to hear the other’s arguments and Darby’s testimony. That could have an effect if it goes to trial, said veteran Huntsville attorney Mark McDaniel.

"Anytime where a prosecutor gets a defendant on the witness stand before trial, that’s favorable to the state,” he said.

Darby’s lawyers are hoping it won’t get that far and they are pursuing the appeals court ruling.

“You’re asking the upper court to tell the lower court that you abused your discretion in this particular matter,” McDaniel said.

Mandamus petitions are rare, McDaniel said. The appeals court’s role will be to take a closer look at the hearing.

“The appellate court’s got the (hearing) transcript, they will look at it and say ‘Did the circuit court, Judge Pate, did she abuse her discretion?’”

The petitions are generally considered a long shot, McDaniel said. But he added both the decision to pursue the immunity hearing  -- where prosecutors were able to hear Darby testify -- and filing the mandamus petition, are worth the risk for the defense.

“Don’t blame the defense lawyer certainly, for filing that motion and filing the mandamus,” he said. “Because again, if that court grants it … ballgame. The case is over. “

There is no timetable for the appeals court to rule, or to request additional evidence.

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