HOMEWOOD, Ala. (WHNT) — The Alabama Court of Criminal appeals heard oral arguments Thursday in the case of former Huntsville Police Department officer William Darby.

Darby was convicted of murder last year and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the on-duty shooting of Jeffery Parker in 2018. Parker had called 911 and said he was suicidal.

During his trial, Darby’s attorneys had argued he acted to protect himself and other officers. Darby testified he shot Parker after the latter refused to put down the gun he was holding to his own head.

Prosecutors argued Darby faced no imminent threat and escalated a situation other officers had under control.

Darby appealed his conviction and sentence and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals took the rare step of asking for oral arguments.

The court asked the defense to argue on its claim that Darby was denied a public trial – and on its claim that the trial judge erred by failing to give jurors an instruction on police officer use of force.

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The two sides were each given a half hour to argue. The arguments were held at Samford University in front of a large audience of Birmingham-area high school students as part of a legal education day.

The defense argued that the trial judge’s occasionally turning off a live feed of the trial to media and other spectators amounted to closing the trial. The media and other spectators watched the trial from a separate area as part of COVID-19 protocols. The defense says that turning off the camera, regardless of how long, violated Darby’s constitutional right to a public trial. That closed courtroom issue dominated most of the argument from both sides Thursday.

Darby defense attorney Nick Lough, a former Huntsville-area TV reporter, addressed the court on the public trial claim.

“Mr. Darby is sitting in one courtroom and there is a livestream room in another part of the courthouse, that’s an extension of that courthouse,” Lough told the court. “There’s a line that feeds to that courtroom, once that feed goes off, but action is still continuing inside of the court –whether it’s the testimony of witnesses, objections, a potential suppression issue– which is exactly what happened in his case. I can get into specifics if we need to, but once that’s cut off that creates total closure, and that’s exactly what happened here.

“So yes, the livestream room is an extension of that court, but as soon as that feed is cut off and action continues in the courtroom, then you have a closed court.”

Alabama Assistant Attorney General Marc Starrett told the court the defense could have objected to the camera issue during the trial, but didn’t. The defense argued Darby wasn’t aware the camera was being shut off.

The State of Alabama says Darby’s rights weren’t violated.

“Courts have made it clear that even if you are in a courtroom, you are not necessarily going to be able to hear everything that is said,” Starrett argued. “They’ve made it clear that not all observers may be allowed, or not allowed I take that back, will not be able to see every single piece of evidence in an open court, pre- and post-covid. But that itself is not a violation of a public trial right, and so why would this be a violation of a public trial right? It’s not.

Richard Minor, an associate justice on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, asked what should happen next.

“So should this court send it back to the trial court now to make those findings, or are you asking this court to just reverse the …?”

Lough said a hearing on the closure issue by the trial court would eventually lead the parties right back to the appeals court to resolve.

“Your honor, I’m asking this court to reverse this case and send it back for a new trial because it’s a structural error, and when a structural error occurs that’s the remedy that’s available.”

There was also an argument on the defense’s claim that the jury should have been instructed about a police officer’s use of force — not simply Alabama self-defense law.

Defense attorney J.D. Lloyd argued that portion of the appeal.

“The circuit court failed to give the jury a critical instruction regarding how the jury should consider the evidence from the viewpoint of a reasonable police officer in that situation,” Lloyd told the court. “Without that instruction, the jury charges were incomplete and did not properly reflect the defense’s theory of the case.”

Lloyd read aloud to the appeals court the instruction the trial court rejected.

“This is Instruction 35, the reasonableness of an officer’s action in using deadly force may be objectively reasonably judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene and the facts that officers are forced to make split-second decisions and in light of the facts and circumstances confronting the officer at the time.”

The jury instructions given by Madison County Circuit Judge Donna Pate at Darby’s trial cited Alabama’s self-defense law which covers all people and doesn’t make a distinction for a police officer’s conduct.

Associate Justice Minor asked about police training testimony that was heard in the case.

“For what purpose was expert testimony allowed to be given if not for a reasonable peace officer standard?”

Starrett, who argued both issues for the state, responded to Minor.

“What would be the purpose of introducing testimony of that nature regarding the training? It does everything to provide the jury with a full picture of what that officer’s mindset was when he goes into that situation,” Starrett told the court.

The state’s self-defense law says that deadly force is justified if a person reasonably believes their life or someone else’s life is in immediate danger.

The law reads, “A person is justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself or herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person, and he or she may use a degree of force which he or she reasonably believes to be necessary for the purpose. A person may use deadly physical force, and is legally presumed to be justified in using deadly physical force in self-defense or the defense of another person pursuant to subdivision (5), if the person reasonably believes that another person is: (1) Using or about to use unlawful deadly physical force.”

“The Alabama law regarding this issue makes it that a reasonable person can both interpret it and act on it,” Starrett told the court. “A jury can decide if this person was reasonable, what could they do?”

The defense asked the appeals court to overturn Darby’s conviction on the grounds that he was denied a public trial and on the failure to give a police-related use of force instruction to the jury. The appeals court said it will take those arguments under advisement.