A man who killed six people and injured many more when he drove his SUV through a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Wednesday.
Darrell Brooks Jr., 40, was sentenced by Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow on 76 charges, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and 61 counts of reckless endangerment.
Each homicide count carried a mandatory life sentence, and the only question on Wednesday was whether Dorow would let Brooks serve any of those sentences on extended supervision in the community, the state’s current version of parole. She did not do so. The death penalty is not used in Wisconsin.
Almost all of Brooks’ victims begged the judge to impose the harshest sentence possible during their impact statements in court on Tuesday. Chris Owens, whose mother was killed, told Brooks, “All I ask is that you rot slowly.”
After a fight with his ex-girlfriend, Brooks drove his red Ford Escape through the parade in downtown Waukesha on November 21, 2021. Six people were killed, including an eight-year-old boy marching with his baseball team and three members of the Dancing Grannies. Hundreds of others were hurt.
Brooks told the court on Wednesday, before the judge handed down her sentence, that he had suffered from mental illness since he was a child and had no intention of driving into the parade route. He also made his first public apology to the dozens of people who were injured or lost loved ones as a result of the incident.
Brooks told Dorow in a two-hour-long ramble that he grew up fatherless, poor, and hungry in apartment buildings infested with rats and bugs. Brooks stated that he has had mental health issues for as long as he can remember and that he was physically abused, though he did not specify who. He said that when he took medication and spent short periods of time in mental health facilities, his life was better.
“As I previously stated, people will believe what they want, and that’s fine. This must be stated: what occurred on November 21, 2021, was not, not, not an attack. “It was not planned or plotted,” Brooks explained later, adding, “This was not an intentional act.” It was not, regardless of how many times you say it.”
Brooks also apologized for the first time to the victims and their families.
“I want you to know that I’m sorry not only for what happened, but also for not seeing what’s truly in my heart,” he said. “That you are unable to see my remorse.”
Brooks, on the other hand, didn’t explain his motivation or provide any other insights into what he was thinking as he turned the SUV into the parade. When Dorow asked him what sentence he thought he should receive, he said, “I just want to be helped.”
Brooks’ mother and grandmother pleaded with Dorow to place her son in a mental institution rather than a prison. Brooks has been bipolar since he was 12, according to his grandmother, Mary Edwards, and the disorder caused him to drive into the parade. Dawn Woods, Brooks’ mother, pushed Dorow to make sure he gets treatment in prison.
“If they have to stay away from society for the rest of their lives, at least they’re getting the help they need to become mentally well,” Woods said.
As his mother spoke, Brooks appeared to cry.
Dorow spent the majority of Tuesday listening to dozens of victims demand that Brooks receive the maximum sentence possible. They described frantically searching for their children in the immediate aftermath, the pain their children have endured as they continue to recover from their injuries, and the emptiness they feel as they cope with the loss of their deceased loved ones, one by one.
On Tuesday, District Attorney Susan Opper asked Dorow to make the sentences consecutive so they stack up “just like he stacked victims up as he drove down the road,” with no possibility of release on extended supervision.
During his month-long trial, which was marked by his erratic outbursts, Brooks chose to represent himself. He would not respond to his own name, frequently interrupted Dorow, and would not stop talking. The judge ordered bailiffs to move Brooks to a different courtroom where he could participate via video but she could mute his microphone if he became disruptive.
Dorow had no choice but to let Brooks represent himself, citing the fact that several psychologists thought he was competent.
On Wednesday, Brooks apologized to Dorow for his behavior, saying he was frustrated during the trial and she shouldn’t take it personally.
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