HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — A judge sentenced a former Alabama police officer to 25 years in prison Friday for the shooting death of a suicidal man who was holding a gun to his own head.
Former Huntsville police officer William “Ben” Darby was convicted in May of killing Jeffrey Parker in 2018. Darby shot Parker while responding to a call after the man phoned 911 saying he was armed and planned to kill himself.
Darby and others pleaded for leniency, saying there was no evil intent when he pulled the trigger. Prosecutors argued during the sentencing hearing that Darby’s lack of willingness to admit wrongdoing and the “gravity of what he did to Jeffery Parker” deserved a long sentence, news outlets reported.
“Jeff was in a mental state. Jeff had issues. Jeff asked for help,” Bill Parks, Jeff Parker’s friend, told reporters after the sentencing. Parks said another officer had the situation under control until Darby entered and shot Parker within seconds.
“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?”
Bill Parker said he believed his brother would be alive today, “if Darby hadn't showed up.”
During the trial, jurors saw video of the shooting taken from police body cameras, and Darby testified that he feared seeing “one of my officers” get hurt and fired after Parker only shrugged when ordered to put down the gun he was holding to his own head. Speaking on his own behalf, Darby said he was haunted by the shooting.
“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, according to WHNT.
"There is no evil intent,” Darby said. “There is no malice… I am human. I am Christian. The taking of a human life was not lost on me … I’m asking for mercy, I’m asking for leniency.”
The case drew additional controversy when Darby was allowed to remain on the city payroll for two months after his conviction.
The guilty verdict was criticized by both the mayor and police chief, but lauded by the victim’s family, who said they hope it will spur law enforcement to change how they approach mental health crises.
“An innocent man was murdered,” prosecutor Tim Gann told jurors in closing arguments this spring. “He called for help and he got Ben Darby.”