HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A Madison County jury found Huntsville Police Officer William Darby guilty of murder Friday morning.
Darby was charged with killing Jeffery Parker, 49, at his home on Deramus Avenue in April 2018. Darby shot Parker as he sat in his home with a gun to his head, talking to another Huntsville police officer, Genisha Pegues. Parker had called 911 and told a dispatcher he planned to shoot himself.
The jury took a little over two hours to deliver the verdict. The jury had to restart deliberations Friday morning after a juror that had a medical issue was replaced with an alternate. They had deliberated for about four and a half hours Thursday.
Darby was released from the Madison County Jail on $100,000 bond.
District Attorney Rob Broussard spoke after the verdict. He said Justice demanded the DA’s office to prosecute Officer Darby. He also said the verdict is not a reflection of the Huntsville Police Department as a whole.
During the trial, Darby’s attorneys said he acted within department policy and made a split second decision when he saw a fellow officer in a dangerous situation. But prosecutors maintained that Darby was the aggressor and escalated the situation when he arrived on the scene.
Parker’s Family released a statement thanking Broussard’s office. “We’re extremely grateful for the verdict,” said Martin Weinberg, Parker family Attorney. “We appreciate the District Attorney’s office for the leadership and courage as well as the jury for their service,” he added.
Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray released a statement after the verdict saying the department was “in the first stages of shock.”
“While we thank the jury for their service in this difficult case, I do not believe Officer Darby is a murderer,” McMurray said in his statement. “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.”
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle also released a statement disagreeing with the verdict.
“We recognize this was a hard case with a lot of technical information to process,” Battle said. “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.”
Robert Tuten, Daby’s defense attorney, released the following statement about the case.
“Everyone is shocked by the jury’s verdict,” said Tuten. “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 protect Alabamians and perform their duties. We look forward to the appeal of this case.”
Pegues and another officer, Justin Beckles, were the first to arrive at Parker’s home that day. Pegues testified that she entered the home and saw Parker sitting with the gun to his head.
As she spoke with Parker and tried to de-escalate the situation, Pegues said she was standing in a doorway with her gun drawn but not pointed at Parker. When Darby arrived with a shotgun, Pegues said Darby yelled at Parker to drop his gun, and he also yelled at her to point her gun at Parker.
Pegues said Parker remained calm after Darby arrived and kept his gun pointed at his own head. She testified that she told Parker to lower his weapon because she didn’t want anything to happen to him, and Darby shot him in the face seconds later.
In closing arguments, prosecutor Tim Douthit said Darby was the one who made the situation aggressive, not Parker, and that meant Parker was murdered.
But defense attorney Robert Tuten said Darby was not a murderer, and Parker presented a threat. Darby had seconds to react to the situation, Tuten said, and Parker was relaxed because he knew what he was going to do in the situation.
Seven men and five women made up the jury.
Darby remained on duty with the Huntsville Police Department while awaiting trial but was on administrative duty. The city paid a portion of his legal fees in the case.
Darby initially tried to claim he was acting in self defense and was immune to prosecution, but a judge determined after an immunity hearing he should still go to trial.