HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A Huntsville Police Department officer charged with murder for an on-duty shooting could have his fate decided in a hearing next week.
William Darby is asking the court to throw out his murder charge on the grounds that the fatal shooting was self-defense.
Darby is charged with killing Jeffrey Parker in Parker’s home on Deramus Avenue last April. His lawyer wants to show the judge in the immunity hearing — also known as a self-defense hearing — that Darby’s actions were justified and the murder charge is invalid.
The Madison County District Attorney’s office brought the shooting to a grand jury in the summer of 2018; the grand jury indicted Darby for murder.
District Attorney Rob Broussard said they had concerns on whether the use of deadly force was justified.
The hearing is set for Feb. 28.
Ron Smith, a Huntsville defense attorney, said defense attorneys have strategy decisions to weigh in moving forward with a hearing that gives the other side a chance to question witnesses – witnesses they could see again at a trial.
Darby’s trial is currently set for April 8.
“These hearings almost always are going to require the defendant to testify, which is one of the strategy reasons why somebody may not want to do that,” Smith said.
If the case goes to trial, the state has the burden of proof, but at a self-defense hearing, it’s the other way around.
“The burden is on the defendant,” Smith said. “And the defendant must prove by preponderance of the evidence, which is basically, an easy way of saying that is 51 percent, that he acted in self-defense.”
A Huntsville Police Department shooting review board cleared Darby of wrongdoing, finding that he acted within department policy.
Parker, the shooting victim, had told 911 he was suicidal. Police said he was armed.
“You have to show one, that somebody was using unlawful force against you, or that you reasonably apprehended or believed somebody was about to use unlawful force against you,” Smith said.
The self-defense standard emphasizes reasonable use of equal force, Smith said.
“If somebody came at you with a sponge, you can’t shoot them,” he said.
The standard can also apply to protecting others.
“You can use force necessary to stop that force, so, if somebody is coming at you with a gun or knife, then you’re able to use deadly force,” Smith said.
One major difference in this case is that unlike the average citizen in a confrontation, Darby was trained.
“A police officer, that comes into whether his use of force was reasonable based on his understanding of the events, and, they’re going to take all of that into account,” Smith said.