HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Former Huntsville Police Department officer William Darby was sentenced to 25 years in prison Friday afternoon for the murder of a man he shot while on duty in 2018.
Darby’s murder conviction carried a possible sentencing range of 20 years to life in prison. Darby, 28, was convicted of murder three months ago.
Darby’s defense had sought the minimum 20-year sentence. Prosecutors had pushed for a minimum 25-year sentence.
Defense attorney Robert Tuten said Darby “acted in a way that he thought was appropriate” and called the incident “police action” that kept other officers out of danger.
Darby shot 49-year-old Jeffery Parker as he sat in his home on Deramus Avenue 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.
At Friday’s sentencing, Madison County Chief Deputy District Attorney Tim Gann stated Darby’s lack of willingness to admit wrongdoing coupled with the “gravity of what he did to Jeffery Parker,” made the state call for no less than 25 years in prison.
Darby himself said “After the shooting, I would wake up in the middle of the night… I would think about Mr. Parker. I would think about his face. I would think about his fiancé.”
Darby said it took a long time to not see Parker’s face every day.
“There is no evil intent,” Darby said. “There is no malice… I am human. I am Christian. The taking of human life was not lost on me… I’m asking for mercy, I’m asking for leniency.”
Darby said he sought pastoral counseling after the shooting and asked the judge to consider the 72 letters and testimony from witnesses his defense called.
Darby’s defense called several character witnesses, including his father, wife, colleagues, and pastor.
Steve Taylor, Darby’s pastor, said Darby always wanted to do the right thing and trusts him as a friend and fellow believer.
“He is someone I absolutely trust,” said Taylor.
Clint Murphree, Darby’s lifelong friend, called Darby “a Christian man who serves his community” and stated the shooting death of Parker strengthened and solidified Darby’s faith.
William Darby Sr., Darby’s father and a semi-retired police officer who worked for Decatur for 32 years, said he never pressured his son to enter law enforcement. Darby Sr. said his son was more concerned with what would happen to his wife and family than himself.
Darby’s wife, Keelin, begged for lenience in her husband’s sentence.
“I need him in my life,” she said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better husband and I thank the Lord for him and what he stands for.”
Gann went on to say he believes Darby’s team will request restitution.
After the sentencing, the city of Huntsville responded, “Mr. Darby’s attorneys have publically stated they are proceeding with an appeal and the city believes it would be inappropriate to make any comments or statement that might interfere with the process.”
A police department shooting review panel cleared Darby in May 2018, but the Madison County District Attorney’s Office found problems with the shooting. A grand jury agreed and issued the murder indictment in August of that same year.
Darby’s murder trial was delayed several times because of motions, conflicts with attorney’s schedules, and COVID-19.
Once the trial started on May 3, 2021, it lasted only five days. The first day of jury deliberations lasted about four and half hours but had to restart deliberations the next morning after a juror with a medical issue was replaced by an alternate.
The jury deliberated just over six and a half hours before finding Darby guilty of murder. Shortly after the verdict was read, Darby’s lawyer Robert Tuten and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle were pointing to an appeal, which cannot be filed until after Darby is sentenced.
The City of Huntsville reported Friday afternoon that as of Aug. 19, it had paid out the last of the $125,000 approved for Darby’s defense by the city council. Of that, $92,007.57 was paid to Darby’s attorney, Robert Tuten. Another $25,672.47 was paid to Billy Ware & Associates, and $7,319.96 was paid to a company called Tactical Science.
Darby remained on the city’s payroll until his resignation over two months after his conviction.
Jeffery Parker’s best friend from high school, Bill Parks, described Parker as a very kind soul who had his demons, just like everyone else in the world.
“Jeff was a very smart guy, almost a Renaissance man. He loved music. He could fix almost anything you asked him to do. He just asked for help. He wanted help and he ended up in a situation where he asked for help and it ended up terribly.” Parks said during a press conference after Darby’s conviction.
The Parker family filed a civil lawsuit against Darby and the City of Huntsville in March 2020, the lawsuit was placed on hold for over a year while the criminal case was pending.
U.S. District Judge Liles Burke ruled in June 2021 that the lawsuit could move forward before Darby was sentenced. The judge told the attorneys representing the Parker family and both the City of Huntsville and Officer Darby they can begin discovery in the civil case, but not depositions.
“We don’t want to interfere with any of the criminal proceedings. And we’re not going to do that. We’re just…It’s been over three years and we’re just going to start the process. These things will take a while. They feel the wheels of justice are moving,” said Martin Weinberg, the attorney representing the Parker family.
Judge Burke said he will evaluate where things stand once the criminal sentencing hearing takes place.