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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Detective recounts interrogating suspect in Wisconsin parade crash

Revelations from portions of the interviews presented to the jury marked a turning point in the murder trial.

WAUKESHA, Wis. (CN) — A detective who conducted initial hourslong interviews with the suspect in the car crash tragedy at a Wisconsin Christmas parade last fall testified at the suspect’s homicide trial on Tuesday, accompanied by videos illustrating the man's poise, evasiveness and despair in the hours and days after he was apprehended.

Prosecutors began their direct examination of Waukesha Police Department detective Jay Carpenter on Monday afternoon and it extended for nearly four more hours on Tuesday, complete with clips from a custodial interview he and another detective had with suspect Darrell Brooks the day after he was arrested near the site of the parade crash on Nov. 21, 2021.

Brooks is alleged to have driven his red Ford Escape down Main Street in Waukesha during its annual Christmas parade, striking dozens of participants and spectators and killing six people, including a child.

The six deceased victims were Virginia Sorenson, 79; LeAnna Owen, 71; Tamara Durand, 52; Jane Kulich, 52; Wilhelm Hospel, 81; and Jackson Sparks, 8.

Brooks faces 76 felony and misdemeanor charges, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and 61 counts of first-degree reckless endangerment. The Milwaukee native faces life imprisonment without parole if convicted of one of his homicide charges.

During his testimony Monday into Tuesday, Carpenter mostly described Brooks’ demeanor as calm during their interviews, which began in a police holding room at Waukesha Memorial Hospital on the night of Nov. 21, 2021, and resumed in an interrogation room at the police station in nearby Muskego the following day.

Carpenter clarified that Brooks’ interviews took place at the hospital and in Muskego because Brooks wanted medical attention for a shoulder injury he claimed he suffered while being arrested and because the Waukesha police’s main station was under construction and no other secure location could be used in the fluid, chaotic hours of investigation after the crash.

Belying the seriousness of the charges he would face, early video of the Nov. 22 interview depicts Brooks’ confident, chummy energy with Carpenter, whom he repeatedly referred to as “Carp.”

Carpenter testified about the importance of establishing a rapport with a suspect in order to relax them and facilitate an effective interrogation.

The detective came into Brooks’ second interview with new information about the grim aftermath of the parade crash and a domestic incident Brooks had with his ex-girlfriend right before the crash in which he allegedly struck her, which Carpenter at first concealed from Brooks while questioning him.

Brooks faces a battery misdemeanor and two counts of felony bail jumping for the domestic abuse incident. The latter two charges stem from the fact that Brooks was barred from contacting his ex-girlfriend as bail conditions in a Milwaukee felony domestic abuse case alleging battery of the same woman.

Details of that case and another related Milwaukee felony case were blocked as evidence in Brooks’ trial by Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow.

Darrell Brooks, the suspect in a fatal crash at a Waukesha, Wisconsin, Christmas parade last fall, questions a witness during his homicide trial on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022. (Court TV livestream via Courthouse News)

In video of his second interview with Brooks, the suspect tells Carpenter he was driven to Waukesha on the day of the parade by a friend to watch the Green Bay Packers game at an acquaintance’s house, as well as that he walked to the house near the parade route where he was apprehended from the acquaintance’s residence after meeting briefly with his ex-girlfriend to get $350 she had been holding for him.

All of this was untrue, which Carpenter knew or suspected at the time of the interview but did not reveal to Brooks, in part because gauging a suspect’s truthfulness during interrogation requires not disclosing all available information at once, the detective said.

In the interview video, as Carpenter reveals more information to Brooks – including that he is a suspect in the parade crash and that a key to the SUV used in the crash was found on his person – the suspect withdraws and refuses to keep talking unless he is told details of charges he faces, accusing the detectives of “railroading” and manipulating him into incriminating himself.

Eventually, in the video, Carpenter shows Brooks video of the crash and pictures showing him driving the red SUV through the parade route.

After being shown this evidence but still refusing to admit anything, Brooks was seen in the video shown to the jury seemingly realizing the gravity of his situation.

“I understand that my life is over. I’m trying to come to grips with that…this is how my story ends,” Brooks says in the video.

The defendant spent much of his more than two-hour cross-examination of Carpenter challenging what he characterized as the detective’s duplicitous, possibly unlawful interrogation tactics, including that Carpenter did not honor Brooks invoking his Fifth Amendment right to silence in their first interview and did not immediately reveal that Brooks was being detained in connection with the parade incident.

The detective defended his actions as either according to standard procedure or necessitated by the unique, evolving circumstances of the parade investigation.

Brooks also called his first witness on Tuesday, which came out of order to accommodate a Spanish interpreter needed for the witness’ testimony.

The witness, who marched in the Christmas parade, testified that he was thrown up to 20 feet and suffered a broken leg and torn ligaments after being struck by Brooks. The suspect questioned the witness about his statements to police that he believed the car that hit him was black, not red.

Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper said on Tuesday the state expects to finish its case in chief by the end of business on Wednesday.

It is planned for the jury to be taken to a secure location on Wednesday to view the SUV Brooks is alleged to have driven in the parade crash.

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Categories / Criminal, Regional, Trials

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