HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A Huntsville police officer is asking for immunity in a murder case. The charge stems from an on-duty shooting in April 2018 on Deramus Avenue.
Officer William Benjamin Darby says he was acting in defense in the killing of 49-year-old Jeffery Louis Parker at Parker’s home. Parker had called 911 saying he was suicidal.
Darby’s lawyers argue he was acting lawfully at the time of the on-duty shooting. They contend he was defending himself and other officers.
And they argue in order to file a murder charge against him, Darby’s on-duty conduct would have to be so bizarre as to defy rational explanation.
Judge Donna Pate has set a Feb. 28 hearing on the claims.
The planned immunity hearing will look like a mini-trial, with both sides presenting evidence and witnesses on why the murder charge is, or is not justified.
But, it’s also different than a criminal trial. The defense, in this instance, has the burden of proof. And it’s not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but a preponderance of the evidence, a lower bar to get over.
The divide in Darby’s case was laid out on the day he was indicted, last August, and it will be the focus of his hearing.
On one hand, Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray said Darby was cleared by a Huntsville shooting review board. He said Darby only fired after Parker refused multiple commands to drop his weapon.
Officer Darby, was “called upon to make split-second decision, a decision in a nightmare scenario, the likes of which most people will never experience,” McMurray said. “His training allowed him and his fellow officers to survive as he rushed bravely, without hesitation, into one of the most volatile and unpredictable situations a police officer is called upon to face. Officer Darby performed his duties in accordance with his training. He is by no means a ‘Murderer.'”
Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard took a different view. Broussard said this is his first prosecution of a police officer for murder in 30 years in the district attorney’s office.
“Usually what you’re looking at is whether an officer reasonably feared for his life, before he was forced, to take, to use deadly physical force,” Broussard said. “And on these particular facts of the case, we had concern.”
The fatal incident April 3 began with Parker’s 911 call. He told dispatchers he was suicidal and had a gun, according to the Huntsville Police Department.
Parker’s fiancée, Michele Louthan, was upstairs in their shared home at the time of the shooting. She didn’t know Parker had called police until she heard the fatal shot.
Louthan said she learned from the officers that Parker had told the 911 dispatchers he had a gun, wanted to blow his brains out and the door was open.
Three officers responded to the scene and they spoke to Parker.
The Huntsville Police Department said several commands were issued to Parker to drop the gun, then, “one shot was fired by one of the officers striking Parker and he died as a result.”
William Darby received the “Top Gun Firearms Award” during his graduation from the Huntsville Police department in 2016.
Louthan said Parker died from a single shot.
The grand jury that indicted Darby saw body camera video of the incident from all three officers that were there, as well as their recorded interviews after the shooting, Madison County District Attorney Robert Broussard said. They also heard from HPD witnesses who testified about the department’s training.
The defense argued Darby’s actions didn’t violate state law, namely laws saying someone justified in using deadly physical force is immune from criminal and civil action.
According to state law, a person is justified in using deadly force, “if the person reasonably believes that another person is using or about to use unlawful deadly physical force.” Alabama’s Stand Your Ground law was also cited, which says somebody acting in self-defense doesn’t have a duty to retreat.
Prosecutors have yet to respond to the defense’s request.