Huntsville city officials had spent $125,000 in public money to defend William Darby, saying he had been justified in using deadly force when he fatally shot Jeffrey Parker, 49, in 2018.
Aug. 20, 2021Updated 7:49 p.m. ET
A former Huntsville, Ala., police officer who fatally shot a suicidal man was sentenced on Friday to 25 years in prison, capping a trial in which he was strongly supported by city officials who spent $125,000 in public money on his legal defense.
The former officer, William Darby, 28, resigned from the force only last month, two months after he had been convicted of murdering Jeffrey Parker. Mr. Parker had called 911 on April 3, 2018, to report that he was suicidal, and he was holding a gun to his head when the police arrived, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said the evidence showed that the first officer on the scene, Genisha Pegues, had been trying to help Mr. Parker, 49, when Mr. Darby showed up. Mr. Darby, who had been on the force for about 18 months, shot Mr. Parker 11 seconds after entering his house, according to Martin Weinberg, a lawyer who represents Mr. Parker’s family.
City leaders had maintained that Mr. Darby was justified in using deadly force, and he was cleared of wrongdoing by a police review board before he was indicted on a murder charge in August 2018 and then convicted on May 7.
The Huntsville City Council voted to dedicate $125,000 in public money to Mr. Darby’s defense, the entire sum of which was spent on his case, city officials said on Friday. Mr. Darby also remained on the force after his conviction, first on paid administrative leave and then on accrued leave with pay, before he resigned on July 23, city officials said.
On Friday, a Huntsville city spokeswoman declined to comment on Mr. Darby’s sentencing.
“Mr. Darby’s attorneys have publicly stated they are proceeding with an appeal, and the City believes it would be inappropriate to make any comments or statements that might interfere with that process,” the spokeswoman, Kelly Schrimsher, said in a statement.
Mr. Darby had faced 20 years to life in prison. His defense lawyer, Robert Tuten, who did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails on Friday, had asked for the minimum possible sentence. Mr. Darby had also pleaded for mercy and leniency, according to AL.com.
“I believe it is evident I didn’t want to kill him,” he told Judge Donna S. Pate of the 23rd Judicial Circuit, AL.com reported.
Prosecutors, who had asked for a term of at least 25 years, said they were satisfied with the sentence that Judge Pate handed down.
“At every turn, Mr. Darby refused to take any responsibility for what he did, and he would never admit that he did anything wrong,” Timothy R. Gann, the chief deputy district attorney of Madison County, said in an interview on Friday.
“There was no remorse from him about the killing,” Mr. Gann said. “There was no acknowledgment from him about the gravity of what he did. That was one of the most disturbing things about the case.”
Officers called to Mr. Parker’s house found him “suicidal” and holding a gun, the police said in a statement in August 2018. After Mr. Parker disregarded several orders to drop his weapon, Mr. Darby fatally shot him, the police said.
According to a lawsuit filed by Mr. Parker’s family, Mr. Darby was the third officer to arrive at Mr. Parker’s house that day.
Officer Pegues had entered with her gun pointed down and found Mr. Parker sitting on a couch with a gun to his head, according to the lawsuit. She had been talking to him when Mr. Darby arrived about five minutes later, according to the lawsuit.
Mr. Darby began screaming at Officer Pegues while he was still in the front yard, according to the lawsuit, telling her to point her gun at Mr. Parker because “he can shoot you!” Mr. Darby then repeatedly yelled at Mr. Parker to put his gun down before firing a single shot that killed Mr. Parker, the lawsuit states.
About a month later, a review board convened by the Huntsville Police Department concluded that Mr. Darby’s use of deadly force had been “within policy,” the city said.
Huntsville’s police chief contended that Mr. Darby had been protecting not only himself but also his fellow officers.
“We are in the first stages of shock,” the chief, Mark McMurray, said in a statement after Mr. Darby was convicted in May. “While we thank the jury for their service in this difficult case, I do not believe Officer Darby is a murderer. 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.”
Mayor Tommy Battle had also expressed disagreement with the verdict, saying in May that Mr. Darby “followed the appropriate safety protocols in his response on the scene” and was “doing what he was trained to do in the line of duty.”
Mr. Gann said on Friday that he was stunned by the support that Mr. Darby had received from city officials.
“It’s astonishing that they would have a guy indicted for murder and then go to the City Council for money to defend him and, even after he’s convicted, continue to pay him,” he said.
Mr. Parker had a fiancée and liked music and working with his hands, Mr. Weinberg said. Bill Parker, Mr. Parker’s brother, thanked county prosecutors for making the “difficult choice” to pursue the case.
Speaking at a news conference with the relatives of other people killed by the police, he asked for the Justice Department to investigate what he described as the excessive use of force by the Huntsville police against people experiencing mental health crises.
“In those cases, we may or may not see justice,” Mr. Parker said on Friday. “This is a sad day for Huntsville. And I hope — I sincerely hope — that this wonderful city that I grew up in most of my life takes appropriate action.”