WAUKESHA – Nearly a year after a devastating attack on a sacred city tradition, a jury convicted Darrell Brooks Jr. of killing six people and injuring dozens more while driving during the 2021 Christmas parade.
After being kidnapped Tuesday night after some 90 minutes of deliberation, thThe jury announced it had verdicts early Wednesday.. Judge Jennifer Dorow began reading them just before 11 a.m., starting with the charges of first-degree intentional homicide. She took about 25 minutes to read the guilty verdicts on all 76 counts.
Outside the courtroom, people wearing blue Waukesha Strong sweatshirts had gathered before the verdict announcements, heads bowed in silent prayer.
Brooks, 40, who had represented himself at trial, did not react much when the verdicts were read. In most of it he put his head in his folded hands, with his elbows on the table.
When he finished reading the verdicts, Dorow thanked and excused the jury, then set a hearing for Monday to discuss when to schedule sentencing. She said that she would allow victims who want to make impact statements via Zoom to use that technology.
Dorow agreed to District Attorney Sue Opper’s request for trials on the verdicts. Asked if she had any motions, Brooks asked, “What are trials?”
Six people were killed and at least 61 others were injured when a red Ford Escape SUV driven by Brooks went through the Christmas parade trial on Nov. 21, 2021. The attack left in its wake what police called a “chaotic” atmosphere as Authorities and others scrambled to help victims on a four-block stretch as they searched for the driver.
Brooks’s trial represented the end of a long legal process that included dramatic changes, beginning with charges being filed two days after the parade and continuing with pre-trial hearings just days before trial. The four-week trial was filled with interruptions and delays by Brooks, who decided just days before the trial began that he would represent himself.
The four-week trial was often chaotic.
The trial, which began Oct. 3, was never a smooth process, frequently splitting into arguments between Brooks and Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow.
Much of the disagreement stemmed from Brooks’s decision to waive your right to an attorney and represent yourselfthat Dorow had warned before the trial that he would do “at his own risk,” noting that he would have to comply with unknown laws and court processes.
But the fights were also tied to Brooks’s repeated attempts to portray himself as a “sovereign” citizen, which Dorow and prosecutors repeatedly called a “totally discredited” theory in which the defendants question the jurisdiction of the courts. Even after Dorow issued a written ruling on the court’s jurisdiction, Brooks continued to ask for “proof” of jurisdiction.
As a result of the sometimes heated discussions with Brooks, Dorow took him to an adjacent courtroom on several occasions, usually to allow him to finish his findings for the record without interruption. Dorow said current technology provided the option for him to participate remotely without violating his right to be present during proceedings.
It’s unknown if that’s one of the issues Brooks will bring up on appeal.
Charges changed over time
streams was charged with six counts of first-degree intentional homicide, 61 counts of reckless endangerment of safety, six counts of hit-and-run resulting in death, two counts of skipping bail, all felonies related to the tragedy parade and a misdemeanor battery charge.
But those charges did not come all at once. Brooks initially faced five murder charges, with a sixth added following the death of 8-year-old Jackson Sparks of Mukwonago several days after the parade. The charges skyrocketed in mid-January, when the 61 reckless endangerment charges were added. At one point, he faced 83 charges.
Six charges were removed in pre-trial proceedings after Dorow agreed, Brooks could not be charged with intentional homicide or vehicular manslaughter under the influence of a controlled substance.
Prosecutors dismissed another charge, explaining in court that one of the two domestic violence charges involving his ex-girlfriend might not stand because she showed no obvious signs of physical injury.
That left 76 counts, all of which the jury was asked to consider individually during their deliberations.
The effects were felt almost a year later
A lot has changed since the 2021 parade.
One major adjustment was the implementation of aggressive security measures designed to keep unauthorized vehicles out of future parades. Most of that was accomplished with portable barriers designed to break the bottom of any vehicle driving through them. Additionally, police now routinely create a perimeter that is clear of vehicles prior to any event.
The 2022 Waukesha Christmas Parade will be held two weeks after, a plan that is expected to continue each year, according to city officials. The date, the first Sunday in December, will in part accommodate police and other critical personnel, who will no longer have to contend with Thanksgiving week holiday schedules that can hamper emergency responses.
In 2023, the city also expects two memorials — one along Main Street at the Five Points intersection and the other in Grede Park on Wisconsin Avenue near the end of the parade route — to honor and remember those affected by the parade.