A Madison County jury Friday convicted Huntsville Police Department Officer William “Ben” Darby of murder.
The jury deliberated for about four hours on Thursday and two more hours Friday before announcing its verdict.
That verdict drew swift criticism from the defense, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Huntsville Police Department Chief Mark McMurray.
This week, a person who said they served on the jury reached out to News 19, expressing concern about the officials’ comments. The juror said each member of the jury came into the process with no anti-police bias, noting that another juror spoke up during jury selection saying that he wanted to serve to ensure police got a fair shake.
The juror who contacted News 19 wrote up some thoughts about the case, the evidence and the approach taken by the jury. There were also concerns expressed that the jury’s role – pressed upon them by a jury selection process that is not voluntary – was being unfairly criticized. Those thoughts, including some criticism of the defense and Ben Darby, were posted to Reddit anonymously Tuesday.
The juror also offered to let News 19 publish their thoughts on the case but declined an opportunity to do a TV interview.
The Madison County District Attorney’s Office had argued in court there was no justification for Darby shooting Jeffery Parker at Parker’s home in Huntsville in 2018. Parker had called 911 telling a dispatcher he planned to shoot himself.
Following the verdict, Huntsville Police Department Chief Mark McMurray said he was shocked by the verdict and said he didn’t believe Darby is a murderer. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said he disagreed with the jury and pointed to Darby’s right to appeal.
The city of Huntsville, at Battle’s urging, agreed in early 2019 to pay up to $125,000 to assist Darby’s defense. The city said this week Darby is now on paid leave, pending a so-far-unscheduled disciplinary hearing.
The juror’s statement is below.
“I was on the jury in the case for the murder of Mr. Parker. I want to clear the air on some things that I’m reading and hearing about the guilty verdict. I feel this is even more necessary after seeing the inexplicable responses of our mayor and police chief. I am writing this all explicitly from my memory of the court proceedings and evidence. I have viewed the videos multiple times and paid close attention to all of the witness testimony and evidence provided.
“There are actually three full bodycam videos. Officer Pegues, Officer Beckles, and Officer Darby. We listened to the 911 call and to all of the radio chatter. Something interesting that was brought to our attention later was that over a minute of the police radio recording had been deleted by the police department that was time stamped directly around the time of the shooting.
“Pegues and Beckles responded to the house first after the call over the radio for a suicidal individual. They responded appropriately and were communicating with Mr. Parker. They were never afraid or in any immediate danger (at their own admission on the witness stand, and obvious from the footage). Mr. Parker was calm the entire time and he never once moved from his position on his couch. He had one foot up on the coffee table, wearing crocs while leaning back with the gun pointed at his own head while resting the arm at his side. He was never aggressive, never cursed or even offered to raise his voice. He answered the questions Pegues was asking of him in a calm and collected manner. She found out that there was another person in the house upstairs sleeping, his fiance. She asked ‘why do you want to kill yourself man?’ Parker says something softly that we cannot hear and Pegues questions ‘strung out on drugs?‘
“Sometime shortly thereafter, Darby decided to respond to this call. He was not specifically sent to this call. He was supposed to be returning to the police department to turn in his bodycam footage due to a complaint against him or another officer. Darby arrived on the scene, visibly annoyed. He struggled to get his shotgun out of the rack in his car while cursing. Once he got it out he promptly took the buckshot out of the chamber and loaded a single slug. He sprinted to the house, and immediately yelled at Pegues to ‘point your F***ING gun at him!’ Keep in mind, he could not see inside by his own admission (and as seen on video) and he didn’t bother to ask the other two officers what the situation was. Pegues tried to tell Darby ‘he’s right here in front of me’ but Darby insisted ‘he could shoot you!’ You can clearly hear Mr. Parker in the background saying ‘I’m not going to hurt you.‘
“Darby turns to the left of the house, as if for a moment he thought about what he was going to do. Then he pushed past Beckles and forced Pegues to adjust her position further into the house (previously, Pegues was only halfway in the doorway). Since Darby and the others were in such ‘imminent danger,’ he stops and removes a hand from his gun for a moment to put his sunglasses up to his forehead. Then he shouts his commands at Mr. Parker: ‘Put the gun down…put the gun down, I’m not going to tell you again!’ Meanwhile, Pegues is begging and pleading with Mr. Parker, ‘Please, PLEASE I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.’ Then Darby shoots. Mr. Parker never so much as flinched. Parker was doomed as soon as Darby entered the house. Darby put himself into this ‘dangerous’ position. We counted the time on the timestamps, Darby only gave Mr. Parker 8 seconds from the time he removed his sunglasses until the time he killed him.
“They were adamant about talking about how this was a very well trained officer and he followed the proper policies and procedures. Right after Darby shoots, he turns to the right as if he is going to walk out the front door with his gun down. Then, he walks over to the lifeless body of the victim and puts handcuffs on him. He proceeds to slowly walk around the house with his gun pointed down, while Pegues and Beckles handled the fiance that made her way downstairs after hearing the gunshot (remember, they claim these other officers aren’t doing the right thing and aren’t trained well). Pegues checked the fiance for weapons with her gun trained on her before leading her out of the house. You don’t want to hear the screams and pleas from this poor woman after seeing her fiance’s face half blown off by a shotgun. After this event, it is quite noticeable that nobody will look Darby in the eyes.
“We see Darby exit the house and Beckles asks for his shotgun. Darby obliges and wanders over to his car, under supervision of other officers. He is asked by various officers if the gun ever moved or was pointed at them, or if Parker was ever aggressive. He starts speaking to fellow officer J (name removed) that seems to be a friend of his. Darby warns that his ‘stuff is on’ (talking about his bodycam). J asks if he is feeling ok, and Darby says he is just fine. In fact, he even has the mind to make a few jokes while talking with officers. He is very concerned about his sidearm being taken away as well as his vehicle, seemingly more concerned about this than the man he just shot. Darby asks J if he can hold something for him from his trunk, but he needs it back ‘by the end of TODAY.’ J obliges, and we see Darby cover up his bodycam with his hand while removing something from his vehicle to give to J. Shortly after this the LT comes over and says ‘do not remove anything from your car.’ Darby never mentions taking anything out, and we never find out what it was that he was hiding. We see him digging through two other bags from his trunk and removing pistols. He never once shows any signs of distress for what just occurred.
“Later, we see a video of Detective Vogel interviewing Darby three days after the incident. Darby is as cool as can be, showing no visible remorse for what has happened. Vogel asks him to explain the incident, and Darby recounts everything with a picturesque memory. How could this be? Darby mentions at least three times that ‘if he sees the video again’ he could elaborate further on certain details. They are not allowed to be shown any video until investigations are over with (by HPDs own admittance). Who showed him the video? The HPD witnesses called to the stand by the defense said they hadn’t accessed it, but that there are access records kept. The prosecutors pointed out that when they asked for those records, they had been deleted. Darby then says on the witness stand that he had never seen the videos prior to the investigation, even though he says it quite clearly in his interview.
“Remember back when I mentioned Darby had to remove his sunglasses when he entered the house? In the interview with Vogel, he describes this as ‘style points.’ Those were his exact words. He was asked if something could have been done differently. Darby said he ‘wished he could have just slammed Mr. Parker through the table’ instead, then Parker could ‘go get married and live his life, or whatever.’ Please recall that I have watched these videos multiple times, including during deliberation. Remember that this was known to be a call for someone saying they are going to commit suicide. Slamming them through the table sounds reasonable and is a normal policy or procedure for a suicide call?
“Vogel concludes the interview by asking if the gun ever shifted from Mr. Parker’s head, or if he was ever aggressive in any way. We know the answer to this already, but Darby confirms.
“The defense only positioned themselves on one thing really: training. He was trained to react this way. ‘Action/reaction, the fatal funnel!’ They brought in experts (questionable at best). Some of their witnesses were thrown out for being, frankly, ridiculous. One witness they brought in claimed to have met Mr. Parker when he was ‘looking for a house nearby.’ He said he had met him around 10 times. He was asked by the defense what Parker thought about police, and started to mention something about ‘OH HE HATED POLICE!’ before the judge intervened and jurors were told to step out of the courtroom momentarily. When we returned this ‘witness’ was gone.
“The defense presented an image of a small tattoo on Mr. Parker’s chest (taken from the autopsy photos). They showed it to a gang specialist from HPD. It simply looks like some kind of small Gaelic symbol. They say it contains a skull and crossbones and claim it could be a Nazi death head symbol that could be attributed to white supremacist groups. Why bring this up? Are we supposed to want to believe that Parker deserved to die? The officers couldn’t see the tiny tattoo, Parker had a shirt on and was on the other side of the room. Additionally, if he were a dangerous white supremacist, why didn’t he kill the first two officers on the scene who were both black?
“Later we learn that the gun the victim was holding was not a gun at all, but a flare gun that had been modified to have pellets in the flare cartridge. The guy didn’t even own a real gun, and as far as I know didn’t even have a criminal record. I don’t think he was even breaking any laws. His autopsy revealed that he had no drugs in his system except for an antihistamine, and no markings consistent with drug abuse.
“Why didn’t the first two officers on the scene feel the need to shoot Mr. Parker and neutralize this ‘dangerous’ situation? After all, he was an ‘imminent and dangerous threat’ to everyone. They were talking to Mr. Parker for over a minute, while it only took Darby 8 seconds to decide to kill him without knowing anything about the situation.
“I don’t really want to go into a lot of detail on the jury deliberation to be respectful to my fellow jurors. I will say that we did a blind vote and had 11 vote guilty on Thursday, with one person wanting to sleep on it for further review on Friday. Tell me: can you go pick 12 random registered voters from the area and get them to agree on something 100%, much less something this stressful? This is not something we took lightly. We looked at this from all angles and appropriately applied it to the definitions of the law that we were given by the judge. It was not some ‘liberal agenda’. Nobody was out to ‘stick it to the police’. The situation was honestly pretty clear in the end when applied to the law surrounding murder and self defense for the state of Alabama. Laws apply to everyone. Laws are not the same as ‘training, policies and procedures’.
Does this sound like self-defense? That is the argument the defense would like you to believe, as well as the mayor and police chief apparently.
I’m sorry if this is rambling, but I really needed to get it off my chest because this has not been easy. Nobody volunteered to be on this jury. I didn’t want to go there Monday morning and I certainly didn’t expect it to be a case like this. I didn’t think I would be selected, but here we are today. I am sickened by some of the comments I see that stem from ignorance or straight up malfeasance in the case of the mayor and police chief. I guess I can understand if you disagree with the verdict, but that is an unintelligent and uninformed position unless you have all of the evidence and have seen all of the videos yourself. I don’t really have any great words of wisdom and I don’t intend to be some absolute source of truth on this matter (this is all recounted from my memory). As I said in the beginning, I just want to clear the air.