Former Huntsville, Alabama, police officer Ben Darby awaits an appeal more than a year after a controversial 25-year sentence in a “suicide-by-cop” case going back to 2018.
Darby’s legal team has urged the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn his conviction and order a new trial. The motion for a new trial was submitted in August of last year, more than a year ago.
The case arose from an incident four years ago involving Darby responding to a call on April 3, 2018, of a man inside his own home with a gun to his head. The 911 call was made by Jeffrey Parker, with the man claiming he would “blow his brains out.”
Darby arrived as the third officer on the scene armed with a shotgun. The officer ordered Parker to drop the gun that was pointed at Parker’s head.
Parker refused and appeared to move his gun toward the officers. Darby shot and killed Parker due to the imminent threat.
It was later found that the firearm was a flare gun. An investigation by the Incident Review Board of the Huntsville Police Department cleared Darby of any wrongdoing. Body cam footage of the incident was also available and reviewed as part of the investigation.
The other two officers were sent back to the academy for further training. The investigation revealed that the other officers had broken protocol by entering the house of the reportedly armed man and had violated standard safety precautions. Both officers later resigned.
Darby returned to active duty, but within four months was charged with murder by the district attorney (DA). The officer was reportedly offered a plea deal involving no custody time if he accepted an aggravated manslaughter conviction. He refused.
The closed trial that followed resulted in a 25-year prison term. Then Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray, now retired, sent a letter on Darby’s behalf to the state’s Attorney General Steve Marshall.
“There is an obvious legal incongruity here that demands clarification and resolution for the benefit of all law enforcement officers across the state, especially Officer Darby,” McMurray wrote regarding the case.
“Does an Alabama law enforcement officer have to wait until an individual points a gun at him before he can use deadly force?” he added.
McMurray also shared a statement in support of Darby immediately following the guilty verdict last year.
“While we thank the jury for their service in this difficult case, I do not believe Officer Darby is a murderer,” McMurray said. “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. Any situation that involves a loss of life is tragic. Our hearts go out to everyone involved.”
In April, McMurray also shared a video on Instagram in support of Darby’s case.
“I am recently retired Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray and I stand with former Huntsville police officer William Ben Darby,” he said in the video.
The National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), representing 356,000 members in more than 2,100 lodges nationwide, also filed an amicus brief in support of Darby in the case.
“Law enforcement officers are increasingly facing criminal indictments as a result of a use of force on duty. The trend moving forward is uncertain. There is no precedent in Alabama regarding the proper jury instruction in a criminal case involving a police officer use of force,” the brief concluded.
“In light of the foregoing, the FOP respectfully requests that Officer Darby’s conviction be reversed,” the FOP added.
The Huntsville City Council voted to approve $125,000 toward Darby’s legal defense. A city resolution in 2018 noted that Darby’s response was “within the line and scope of his duty.”
The verdict came just weeks after former white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, who was black, in a high-profile case that led to an increased focus on race-related police actions.
Some believe the timing may have influenced the decision in Darby’s trial. In Darby’s case, he was a white officer responding to a 911 call regarding Parker, also white, who said he planned to shoot himself.
The jury believed Parker did not pose an imminent threat to Darby or other officers. The ruling stood in clear contrast to the police department’s investigation, as well as the evidence of an armed man just feet away from three officers who refused to put down his weapon.
Madison County DA Robert Broussard emphasized that Darby had “no business” being a police officer. Attorneys for Parker’s family emphasized Darby had only been an officer for about a year and a half at the time and shot Parker just seconds after entering the home.
In contrast, Darby’s legal team argued in the motion for a new trial that “the Trial court erred by excluding spectators from the courtroom thus violating the Defendant’s constitutional rights to a public trial.”
The motion also adds that the court “erred by violating the Defendant’s constitutional right to present a defense by excluding evidence that the Defendant followed established procedures and protocol on the scene of the shooting” among the defendant’s list of 32 concerns.
StandwithDarby.com, an effort to stand in solidarity with Darby and his family, says any law enforcement officer or their family member could be in Darby’s position. The website describes the former officer as “a Christian, husband and son, and has lived a life of service and honor. Ben is known by his love for his family, involvement in church, and care for the community. Ben honorably served as a police officer, risked his life for others, and now needs help as he fights for his life.”
His wife Keelin, who is also an officer, continues to advocate for his appeal and release.
“When I go to work tonight, I’m possibly going to face the same threat that he did and I’m going to have to make that decision. Am I going to protect my life or am I going to get shot?” she said during an interview with Tomi Lahren during a recent “Fearless” episode.
Keelin and everyone else involved with the case faced a gag order until recently that prevented her from speaking out on her husband’s behalf. Now the order has ended, and she’s out to share her story to help advocate for Ben’s release.
Each day continues her battle as she works as an officer by day and advocates for her husband’s cause by night. Keelin also shared her concerns related to the trial on the “Stand with Darby” website.
“During the trial, the judge prevented exculpatory evidence from being heard by the jury, including relevant testimony by the neighbor, Ben’s police academy instructors, and an FBI instructor, as well as applicable case law that would have exonerated Officer Ben Darby,” she wrote.
“This trial was closed to the public — not open to family, friends, or me, due to Covid restrictions. He was denied qualified immunity and after multiple plea deals consisting of NO prison time, my husband went to trial. During the trial, the DA compared Officer Darby to a regular civilian who barged into a random person’s house, shooting, and killing them. This is a false comparison as Ben was officially trained on how to handle this situation. The general public is untrained. Officer Ben Darby was sentenced to 25 years,” she added.
During a phone interview with Keelin, she remained steadfast in her support and hopeful regarding the future of the legal battle.
“We are hopeful that the State Court will see the miscarriage of justice and political persecution committed against my husband at his original trial and they will overturn the verdict. Pertinent case law that was omitted from his original trial exonerates Ben,” she said in a written statement to The Daily Wire.
“I am ready and determined to take his case to the US Supreme Court if necessary. I’ll do whatever it takes, and however long of a process, to see my innocent husband’s freedom restored,” she added.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.