HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A Madison County jury deliberated about six hours last Thursday and Friday before finding Huntsville Police Department officer William “Ben” Darby guilty of murder.
Within a few hours of that verdict, Friday afternoon Darby’s lawyer Robert Tuten and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle were pointing to an appeal. Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray issued a statement saying he was shocked by the verdict and he does not believe Darby is a murderer.
But Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard, whose office brought the case, said there was no justification for Darby shooting Jeffery Parker in Parker’s home on Deramus Avenue.
Tuten, Darby’s defense attorney said the verdict left Darby in a “dark place” and Tuten said the jury got the verdict wrong.
“Everybody wants to know whether Ben Darby is going to appeal this decision and I will tell you right now, he absolutely is,” Tuten said Friday afternoon following the verdict. “We can’t do that yet though, there are some things that we are going to have to deal with first, but he is looking forward to an appeal”
Darby is out on bond. The judge ordered a pre-sentencing investigation that is expected to take about six weeks. The sentencing hearing should take place when that is completed.
Huntsville defense attorney Ron Smith, who does a lot of appellate work, said the appeal process can’t really get underway until sentencing is completed.
“The clock starts running once you’ve been sentenced,” Smith said. “You have 42 days to appeal from sentencing, but you also have 30 days from sentencing to file a motion for a new trial or a motion for a judgment of acquittal — where you basically ask the judge to disregard the jury’s verdict and enter an order finding you not guilty.”
Smith said the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure directs that a person can ask for an appeal bond – basically to remain out of jail pending the appeal – as long as their sentence is 20 years or less. A murder conviction in Alabama, when a firearm is used, carries a sentence of 20 years to life in prison.
Darby had been with HPD for about 18 months when he responded to the call to Parker’s house in April 2018. Parker had called 911 and told an operator he planned to blow his brains out.
Darby was the third officer to the scene.
The prosecution argued Parker, who was holding a gun to his own head, posed no threat to Darby. They pointed to an interview Darby gave to an HPD investigator following the shooting in which he said he didn’t recall the gun moving from Parker’s head.
Darby shouted multiple warnings to Parker to drop the gun, but he refused and, based on the time stamp on police bodycam video played in court, Darby shot Parker about 11 seconds after entering his home.
The defense argued Parker refused multiple orders to drop the gun, which meant he was a threat to Darby and another officer. The defense said Officer Genisha Pegues was out of position and at risk. The defense also introduced expert testimony that showed an armed suspect is capable of getting a shot off within a quarter second before an officer can react.
The prosecution pushed hard on the argument that Parker was not hostile or aggressive and that Darby couldn’t claim self-defense because he was the aggressor.
Huntsville attorney Smith said he recently did an analysis of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals decisions in 2018 and 2019. Smith said the court reversed about 4 percent of its cases — including 1 percent from the state. So, about 3 percent of criminal defendant appeals were successful.