HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Jurors convicted an Alabama police officer of murder in May for the shooting death of a suicidal man who was holding a gun to his own head. Now a judge has sentenced William “Ben” Darby to 25 years in prison for his on-duty actions.
Darby shot Jeffrey Parker in 2018 while responding to a call after the man phoned 911 saying he was armed and planned to kill himself. Defense lawyers argued the shooting was justified because Parker posed a threat to Darby and other officers, Law Officer reported.
After the shooting, Darby was cleared of wrongdoing by a police department shooting review panel and city officials allowed him to remain an officer, with Huntsville taxpayers helping fund his defense against charges brought by a Madison County grand jury.
During trial, a one-time colleague, Genisha Pegues, testified that while Parker was upset, he was talking to her and posed no immediate threat despite a gun held to his head.
After the guilty verdict in May, it was criticized by both the mayor and police chief.
At Friday’s sentencing, Darby and others pleaded for leniency, saying there was no evil intent when he pulled the trigger, The Guardian reported.
Darby 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, WHNT reported.
“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’s defense sought the minimum 20-year sentence, while prosecutors pushed for a minimum 25-year sentence.
Darby said he sought counseling after the shooting and asked the judge to consider a large volume of letters—72 in all—as well as testimony from witnesses called by his defense.
Character witnesses included his father, wife, colleagues, and a pastor, WHNT reported.
“He is someone I absolutely trust,” said Steve Taylor, Darby’s pastor during testimony about the former officer’s desire to always do the right thing.
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 who is a “semi-retired” law enforcement officer who worked for Decatur for 32 years, said he never pressured his son to enter police work. He said his son was more concerned with what would happen to his wife and family than himself.
Darby’s wife, Keelin, pleaded with the judge 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.”
During the hearing, Madison County Chief Deputy District Attorney Tim Gann was presumably not phased by the requests for leniency and mercy of the former public servant. He said 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.
The judge apparently agreed and issued the lengthy prison sentence Friday afternoon, WHNT reported.
“Jeff was in a mental state. Jeff had issues. Jeff asked for help,” Bill Parks, Parker’s best friend, told reporters, according to The Guardian.
“It’s stunning to me. [Jeff] must have been sitting there going, ‘OK, things are good,’ and what 11 seconds later his face was blown off. Why?”