HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the murder conviction of former Huntsville Police Department (HPD) officer William ‘Ben’ Darby on March 24, sending the case back to the trial court.
Darby was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being convicted in 2021 for the on-duty shooting of Jeffery Parker at Parker’s home in Huntsville in 2018.
On Wednesday, April 12, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals finalized the reversal of Darby’s conviction, meaning the case will now be sent back to the trial court.
Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard told News 19 they will try to prosecute Darby again, “Probably the easiest way to picture it, is it’s as if he’s been charged, but there’s never been a trial. It’s almost like you’re back at the starting point, and obviously, we’ll pursue it again.”
Darby’s attorneys filed an appeal arguing that the judge failed to give the jury an instruction related to police officer training in a situation with an armed suspect.
According to the filing, Darby argued that the trial court erred by refusing to give his
requested instruction no. 35, which stated, “The reasonableness of an officer’s actions in using deadly force must be objectively reasonable judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, the fact that officers are forced to make split-second decisions, and in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them at the time.”
Defense attorney Robert Tuten said the appeals court ruling vindicates Darby’s belief that he acted correctly, “I’ve been very impressed with Ben’s confidence, he knew he was right, he knew he followed the law as he had been trained to do, and this opinion shows that he in fact did, and we knew that going into that trial… I told the news that that conviction could not and would not stand.”
The defense had argued Darby’s shooting of Parker was due to Parker being armed and failing to heed Darby’s instructions to drop his weapon.
In Friday’s ruling, the appellate court said, “We acknowledge the State’s argument that whether there should be “unique standards for [a police officer’s] use of deadly force … in … self-defense” is a “policy decision … for the Alabama Legislature, not the appellate courts.” (State’s brief, pp. 60-61.) But the legislature has provided a unique standard for police officers by enacting § 13A 3-27(b)(2).”
The appeals court said the failure to instruct the jury on the defense’s requested instructions was a reversible error.
“In the midst of these possibilities, however, the law is certain: this Court does not deal in “possibilities” when it comes to a harmless-error analysis regarding the erroneous refusal to give a requested jury instruction that is a correct statement of law,” the ruling stated. “If we cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury evaluated Darby’s use of deadly force from the proper perspective, then we cannot conclude that the trial court committed harmless error by refusing to give requested instruction no. 35 or some similarly worded instruction.”
The defense had also appealed on the grounds that Darby did not receive a fair trial because portions of the trial took place while a live feed camera, for spectators and media watching from different rooms under COVID-19 protocols, was turned off. The defense argued that denied Darby his constitutional right to a public trial. But, in Friday’s ruling, the appeals court disagreed.
“Furthermore, even if such proceedings should typically be open to the public, I am confident that the public’s exclusion from them was trivial in this case,” Judge Chris McCool wrote. “That confidences stems from the facts that there were no disputed issues during two of the evidentiary rulings or during the discussion of jury instructions and that Darby has not argued on appeal that the other two evidentiary rulings were incorrect.”
“As noted, the primary purpose of a public trial is to protect the defendant from an unjust conviction, and it is difficult for me to see how this safeguard was undermined when Darby
has never alleged that anything erroneous or untoward occurred during
The City of Huntsville released this statement after the ruling, “The City of Huntsville believed there were serious errors in the Darby trial. We are grateful for the opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals which validates those concerns. We remain committed to the judicial process and [are] confident in that process.”
Darby is currently serving his sentence at the Limestone Correctional Facility.