A jury has convicted Darrell Brooks Jr. of killing six people and injuring dozens more by driving through the 2021 Christmas parade, nearly a year after a devastating attack on a hallowed city tradition.
After approximately 90 minutes of deliberation, the jury was sequestered Tuesday night. The verdicts were announced early Wednesday morning. The judge began reading them shortly before 11:00 a.m., beginning with the charges of first-degree intentional homicide. As a result of reading all 76 guilty verdicts, it took her approximately 25 minutes to complete the task.
Before the verdict announcements, people in blue Waukesha Strong sweatshirts gathered outside the courtroom, their heads bowed in silent prayer.
During the reading of the verdicts, Brooks, 40, who had represented himself at trial, did not react much. Most of the time, he sat at the table with his elbows on the table, while his head was folded in his hands.
After reading the verdicts, Dorow thanked and excused the jury, and then scheduled a hearing for Monday to discuss the timing of sentencing. According to her, she will allow victims who wish to provide impact statements via Zoom to do so.
The District Attorney Sue Opper requested judgment on the verdicts, which Dorow granted. In response to a question regarding motions, Brooks asked, “What do judgments mean?”?”
During the holiday parade trial on Nov. 21, 2021, a red Ford Escape SUV driven by Brooks caused the deaths of six people and injured at least 61 others. The attack left behind what police called a “chaotic” atmosphere as authorities and others scrambled to help victims over a four-block stretch, while also looking for the perpetrator.
After a lengthy legal process marked by dramatic shifts, Brooks’ trial culminated in the filing of charges two days after the parade and the holding of pretrial hearings just days prior to the trial. Brooks’ four-week trial was marred by disruptions and delays, as he decided just days before the proceedings began that he would represent himself.
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The four-week trial was often chaotic
Trial proceedings began on Oct. 3 and frequently broke down into arguments between Brooks and Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow.
Many of the disagreements stemmed from Brooks’ decision to waive his right to an attorney and represent himself, something Dorow had warned him he would be doing “at (his) own peril,” because unfamiliar laws and court procedures would be involved.
Brooks’ repeated attempts to present himself as a “sovereign” citizen were also linked to his attempts to challenge the jurisdiction of the courts, which Dorow and prosecutors repeatedly referred to as a “thoroughly debunked” theory. Despite Dorow’s written ruling regarding the court’s jurisdiction, Brooks continued to seek “proof” of jurisdiction.Despite Dorow’s written ruling regarding the court’s jurisdiction, Brooks continued to seek “proof” of jurisdiction.
Due to the sometimes heated arguments with Brooks, Dorow removed him to an adjacent courtroom on several occasions, allowing her to finish stating her findings for the record without interruption. Using today’s technology, Dorow said she could have him participate remotely without violating his right to be present.
In the event that Brooks files an appeal, it is not known whether that will be one of the issues he will raise.
Over time, charges have changed
Among the charges against Brooks were six counts of first-degree intentional homicide, 61 counts of recklessly endangering safety, six counts of hit-and-run causing death, and two counts of bail jumping, all felonies connected to the parade tragedy.
However, those charges did not occur all at once. In the beginning, Brooks was charged with five counts of homicide, but a sixth count was added following the death of 8-year-old Jackson Sparks of Mukwonago several days after the parade. As a result of the addition of 61 reckless endangerment charges in mid-January, the number of charges increased substantially. It is estimated that he faced 83 charges at one point in time.
Pretrial proceedings resulted in the dismissal of six charges after Dorow ruled that Brooks could not be charged with intentional homicide as well as homicide by vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance.
The prosecutor explained in court that one of the two domestic violence charges involving his ex-girlfriend was not likely to stand since no obvious physical injury had occurred.
As a result, 76 charges remained to be considered by the jury in the course of their deliberations.
Effects felt nearly one year later
There have been many changes since the parade of 2021.
Among the major adjustments was the implementation of aggressive security measures to prevent unauthorized vehicles from participating in future parades. The majority of these barriers were designed to tear up the underside of any vehicle driving through them. As part of the preparations for any event, the police now routinely clear the perimeter of all vehicles.
In 2022, the Waukesha Christmas parade will be held two weeks later, a practice that is expected to continue every year, according to city officials. Due to the date, the first Sunday in December, police and other essential staff will not have to deal with conflicting holiday schedules that may complicate an emergency response during Thanksgiving week.
To honor and remember those stricken in the parade, there will also be two memorials in 2023, one along Main Street near the intersection of Five Points, and the other in Grede Park near Wisconsin Avenue, near the end of the parade route.