Darrell Brooks was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Wednesday for driving his SUV in Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, last year, killing six people and injuring dozens more, after he was twice kicked out of the courtroom for disrupting proceedings.
“This community can’t be safe unless you’re behind bars for the rest of your life,” Judge Jennifer Dorow said as she announced her sentencing on the six counts of first-degree intentional homicide, which she says, will be purged consecutively.
Wednesday’s sentencing comes after dozens of victims of the attack against Brooks in angry and emotional statements on Tuesday.
Brooks and her family had raised her mental health issues in her defense. Although Dorow said his actions behind the wheel that day – including choosing to head into the parade despite multiple opportunities to avoid it – did not support an allegation of mental illness and that he acted” recklessly, negligently and maliciously”.
“It’s very clear to this court that he understands the difference between right and wrong, and he’s just choosing to ignore his conscience,” Dorow said. “It’s fueled by anger and rage.”
“Some people unfortunately choose the path of evil. And I think, Mr. Brooks, you are one of those people,” she continued.
The judge cried as he talked about the footage from the scene.
“These are images that frankly kept me awake at night,” she said.
Dorow spoke about the impact on the victims, including their statements on Tuesday, before announcing his sentencing.
“This trial is unlike anything I’ve ever been in,” she said. “The sheer scale of the crime, the number of people affected, the way they were affected. The vicious and senseless nature of it.”
She highlighted her lack of remorse during a two-hour statement in court before her sentencing and criticized a “weak attempt to blame mental health”.
“I waited for a real apology. I didn’t understand,” she said. “Not for my benefit, but for the victims.”
Brooks was removed from the courtroom during the judge’s sentencing remarks for what Dorow described as a “tirade” and placed in another courtroom with audio access to the proceedings. He was brought back for sentencing, although the judge again dismissed him for not being ordered.
Ahead of Dorow’s sentencing, several people spoke on Brooks’ behalf in Waukesha County Court on Wednesday on Zoom, starting with his mother, Dawn Brooks.
“Jail is not the only answer,” she told the court. “Help, treatment, hospitalization and medication – it plays a big role in preventing this, where we are today, if it had been offered earlier.”
She also read the Maya Angelou poem “Caged Bird”.
“Everyone who suffers from mental illness is caged. All they want is to be free of their illness and recover mentally,” she said, adding that she believed society had the obligation to help others through treatment and medication.
Brooks’ grandmother, Mary Edwards, told the court he had suffered from bipolar disorder since he was 12.
“It was that turmoil that drove him through that crowd,” she said. “I pray that he is treated for this disease.”
According to Dorow, court-ordered tests diagnosed Brooks with antisocial personality disorder.
Brooks himself addressed the court for more than two hours in a sweeping and rambling statement that touched on his faith, upbringing, children and mental illness. At one point, he apologized for the incident, which he said was not “planned” or “conspired”.
“I want everyone to know, including the community of Waukesha, I want you to know that not only am I sorry for what happened, but I’m sorry you couldn’t see what is really in my heart. May you not see the remorse that I have,” he said.
He also apologized to the judge for his antics and outbursts throughout the trial.
“Nothing about it was personal,” he said. “I think it was just the pot overflowing.”
At one point he asked to turn to address the victims in the gallery, which the judge refused.
“I don’t think they’re ready for that yet,” Dorow said.
A jury found Brooks, 40, guilty last month on 76 counts, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide, for throwing his SUV into a Christmas parade on November 21, 2021.
Those killed were Tamara Durand, 52; Wilhelm Hospital, 81; Jane Kulich, 52; Leanna Owen, 71; Virginia Sorenson, 79; and Jackson Sparks, 8.
When asked by Dorow what he thinks the court should do regarding sentencing, Brooks said he did not understand “the true nature and cause of the charges.”
“I also believe that a decision has already been made before we even got here,” he said.
When asked about his thoughts on a possible life sentence without the possibility of parole, Brooks said he would like to go somewhere “where I can be helped.”
Addressing the court on Tuesday during the first day of sentencing, survivors described how Brooks robbed them of their sense of personal security, trust and peace and affected them physically and mentally. The parents recalled frantically searching for their children and the injuries they suffered in the attack. Family members honored the memory of those who were killed. Many of those who went to court asked for the maximum possible sentence.
Several of those who spoke in court were children who recounted the horror and lasting impact of the day.
“I know I lost a part of myself that day, and I’m still trying to find it,” a young victim who was dancing in the parade at the time of the attack told the court on Tuesday.
Another dancer who was injured in the parade said he was afraid of cars at the bus stop.
“It’s getting closer and closer to November 21 and I don’t think I’m ready for that day to come,” the 12-year-old victim told court on Tuesday. “On this day every year, I and many others will reflect on how a peaceful event that has been a tradition in Waukesha for over 50 years and brought everyone smiles and laughs, turned into a tragedy. “
The sentencing hearing was briefly halted Tuesday morning after an unidentified man threatened a mass shooting at the Waukesha County courthouse, authorities said. The threat is being investigated and security at the courthouse has been tightened, the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office said.
Brooks was also briefly removed from the courtroom on Tuesday for what Dorow described as his continued “defiant behavior,” which included yelling and interrupting the judge and prosecutors.
Brooks initially pleaded not guilty by reason of mental illness, but withdrew his plea in September. He dismissed his public defenders during the trial and later represented himself.
Before the trial began, Brooks’ mother wrote to the judge in September asking him not to be allowed to represent himself in court because “he’s not mentally stable enough,” WISN affiliate at Milwaukee ABC. reported at the time.