Man who drove SUV into Waukesha Christmas parade found guilty of intentional homicide
Darrell Brooks was found guilty of six counts of first-degree intentional homicide on Wednesday for driving his SUV into a crowd of Christmas parade attendees in Waukesha, Wisconsin, last November, killing six people and wounding dozens more.
He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison for the convictions.
Brooks, 40, also was convicted of 61 counts of recklessly endangering safety with the use of a dangerous weapon, six counts of fatal hit and run, two counts of felony bail jumping and one count of misdemeanor domestic battery — a clean sweep for the prosecution.
Brooks represented himself in court and has been combative throughout the trial, repeatedly speaking over the judge to make inane and outlandish arguments. Yet as the stream of guilty verdicts were read Wednesday, he looked down, put his head on his hands and sat silently.
The trial comes less than a year after he drove a red SUV through the crowd in Waukesha’s Christmas parade on November 21, killing an 8-year-old boy and several members of the “Dancing Grannies” group.
Brooks had been released from jail less than two weeks prior in a domestic abuse case, on a $1,000 bail that prosecutors later acknowledged was “inappropriately low.” In that case, he allegedly ran over a woman who said she’s the mother of his child, according to court documents.
Prosecutors said in closing arguments Tuesday he intentionally drove through the crowd at significant speeds and hit 68 individual parade-goers, turning a joyous afternoon into a horrific one.
“He reached speeds of approximately 30 mph. That’s intentional. He plowed through 68 different people. 68. How can you hit one and keep going? How can you hit two and keep going?” Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper said.
“His intent I do have to prove, and I submit without any doubt there’s overwhelming evidence that this was an intentional act by Darrell Brooks and an act of utter disregard for human life.”
In his own closing arguments, Brooks attempted to raise questions about the vehicle and about his intent. He repeatedly said there had been “misconceptions” and “lies” told about him during the trial.
“I’ve never heard of someone trying to intentionally hurt someone while attempting to blow their horn while attempting to alert people of their presence,” Brooks said.
Jurors deliberated on Tuesday night for just under two hours and then resumed again on Wednesday morning before quickly reaching its verdicts.
The family of Virginia Sorenson, the 79-year-old killed in the attack, thanked the jury for the verdicts.
“We have been praying for this day for a long time,” her son Marshall Sorenson said.
“This morning my five-year-old daughter came up to me and handed me this necklace with my mom’s ashes in it and she told me to take my mom with us for the sentencing so she was with us today,” he continued. “My mom always used to tell us when we were kids and our family, she always said, ‘Angels watch over you guys,’ so I just want to say, ‘Angels watch over you guys,’ and turn on those blue lights tonight.”
How the trial played out
In court, a series of videos and witnesses detailed the disturbing sights of the SUV ramming through the parade route.
“The band had just passed us, a red SUV … going maybe 30, 40 miles per hour, just went straight over the Waukesha South (high school) band,” said Kyle Jewell, a spectator who tried unsuccessfully to catch up to the SUV to stop it. “And it’s not like it stopped, it went over … it looked like it went in the air, like over a pretty big object, and it was just like a big old speed bump and kept going.”
Nicole White, who prosecutors said was the first person struck by Brooks’ vehicle, testified she sustained injuries to her spine and tailbone and suffered ligament damage to her right knee.
“I just remember being struck by the vehicle from behind on my back and then I fell to my knees and kind of rolled under the vehicle,” White said.
Brooks’ trial has been marked by his unusual decision to represent himself in court and his persistent disruptions. Throughout the trial, he has spoken over prosecutors and the judge, asked vague questions, challenged the court’s jurisdiction and declared “Darrell Brooks” is not his name.
Judge Jennifer Dorow has repeatedly removed Brooks from the court for his outbursts and placed him in a nearby courtroom, where he can communicate via a monitor and microphone which is most often muted.
On Tuesday, after removing him for the prosecution’s closing arguments due to interruptions, she called him “stubbornly defiant.”
“He continues to not respect the fact that a ruling has been made, and he wants to argue and reargue and reargue points that this court has already gone over,” she said.
Brooks previously pleaded not guilty by insanity, but his public defenders withdrew the insanity plea in September. The attorneys later filed a motion to withdraw from the case, and the judge ruled to allow Brooks to represent himself at trial.
Opper, the prosecuting attorney, told jurors in her closing arguments not to be distracted in their deliberations by Brooks’ conduct during the trial.
“You must not, not, not consider anything about Darrell Brooks other than his conduct in downtown Waukesha on the evening of November 21, 2021,” Opper told the jury. “Nothing he’s done before that, nothing he’s done since that. When you go back to that deliberation room, please obey Judge Dorow. Confine your comments to his conduct on November 21.”
Outside court on Wednesday, Opper said Brooks’ behavior was “taxing.”
“We felt very, very offended by his behavior, his disrespect of the court, the decorum, the families, in insulting the judge, in challenging the judge,” she said. “That’s not the way our system is designed. That was intentional on his part, we truly believe that, he did everything he can except claim that the dog ate his homework.”
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