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Jury wastes no time returning guilty verdict in parade crash trial

The man who drove his SUV into a crowd of people faces the possibility of six life sentences plus scores of additional years in prison from his dozens of convictions.

WAUKESHA, Wis. (CN) — The Wisconsin man on trial over a fatal crash at a Waukesha Christmas parade last fall was found guilty of six counts of intentional homicide on Wednesday.

After 17 full days of trial, the jury took less than three hours over one night and one morning to deliberate the fate of Darrell Brooks, the suspect in a crash at a Waukesha parade on Nov. 21, 2021, which resulted in six deaths and more than 60 injuries.

Brooks, 40, silently bowed his head behind his folded hands as Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow began reading through verdicts on the 76 felony and misdemeanor charges he faced, all of them guilty.

A man in the courtroom gallery could be heard yelling “burn in hell you piece of shit” shortly after Dorow began reading the verdicts. The judge immediately admonished the man to be quiet before continuing. Brooks quietly looked back in the direction of the voice, then faced forward and bowed his head again.

Prosecutors ultimately took Brooks to trial on six counts of intentional homicide, six counts of hit-and-run involving death, 61 counts of reckless endangerment, two counts of felony bail jumping and one battery misdemeanor for hitting dozens of spectators and participants with his red Ford Escape while speeding down Waukesha’s Main Street during its annual Christmas parade after striking his ex-girlfriend during a domestic dispute.

Without delay, the jury found Brooks guilty of every charge. The panel was comprised of seven men and five women, all of them white. Each juror attested to the truthfulness of their verdicts when polled by Dorow.

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

The prosecution, led by Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper, called nearly five dozen witnesses while making its case in chief over the course of a little more than 10 days, employing a wide array from hundreds of photographs and videos captured before, during and after the incident.

A number of these exhibits clearly showed Brooks amid the domestic dispute with his ex-girlfriend before the crash, driving his red SUV through multiple stages of the parade route and in flight after the crash, during which time he shed layers of his clothing and pleaded with neighbors to call him an Uber.

At a press conference from the Waukesha courthouse after the verdicts were announced, Opper said "we are satisfied that this defendant has been held accountable for his actions," noting that, come sentencing, Brooks faces the possibility of six consecutive life sentences without parole, plus another 859 years of confinement.

Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper, lead prosecutor in the trial over a fatal crash at a Waukesha Christmas parade last fall, speaks at a press conference after the suspect was found guilty of all counts on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. (Local Fox affiliate via Courthouse News)

The district attorney commended the first responders and paradegoers who rushed to help injured victims at the scene of the crash and the "tremendous resiliency" of the community at large in the midst of the tragedy and its aftermath.

"Remain strong, Waukesha," she said.

Crash victims, family members of the deceased and Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson also spoke, each expressing gratitude that justice has been served after nearly a year.

Emotions ran high at the trial, particularly during testimony from those who were either injured themselves or had family injured by Brooks, but perhaps most of all during testimony from a medical examiner about the autopsy of Sparks, who died during brain surgery two days after the crash.

The suspect maintained through his closing arguments on Tuesday that the tragedy was unintentional. He refuted prosecutors’ ability to know his mental state at the time, saying his conscience was clear.

Brooks’ three-and-a-half-week trial in some ways came to be defined by the defiant, conspiratorial style of his self-representation, in which he interrupted Dorow multiple times per day and routinely raised his voice to her when he was displeased with her rules and decisions.

Citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent, Dorow had Brooks removed from the courtroom many times due to the disruptive and disrespectful nature of his outbursts, which sometimes seethed with outrage and anger at his treatment. The judge’s rationale was that his behavior did not adhere to courtroom decency and decorum and was purposefully meant to delay the proceedings.

Dorow was the direct target of most of Brooks’ ire, including one instance when he stared her down so intensely she had to call a recess because she was scared. She said in open court that Brooks’ case was the most challenging in her nearly 11 years on the bench.

Though the defendant at times would participate in proceedings with civility and comprehension, up to the end he never seemed to accept that the court or Dorow had any legitimate authority or jurisdiction, part of references to the legally debunked sovereign citizen movement peppered in his self-defense.

Brooks’ posture in court was that he was not, in fact, Darrell Brooks at all but a third-party intervenor advocating on the suspect’s behalf. He repeatedly voiced his lack of consent to be called by that name and insisted he did not know any Darrell Brooks, whom he referred to as a “straw man.”

However, the suspect also seemed to let his guard down occasionally, particularly during his opening and closing statements when he argued that the parade crash was an unintended, sorrowful tragedy without explicitly disassociating himself from the driver.

He lodged endless grievances with the court throughout his trial, including that Dorow refused to prove to his liking that the court had subject matter jurisdiction, that his constitutional rights were being trampled on, that he wasn’t provided enough assistance to mount his defense, and that the biased judge was constantly overruling his objections and allowing the state to successfully object to his actions.

Brooks’ paranoia cropped up at other junctures as well, such as when he accused the prosecution of coaching his witnesses not to answer his questions and when he raised the general issue multiple times that the judge was hiding the truth from the jury. Multiple times he called out Dorow and the prosecutors for trying to be "slick" and colluding to railroad him.

At the post-verdict press conference, Opper said Brooks' last-minute self-representation changed the prosecution's strategy, but given that the weight of the evidence against the suspect was so overwhelming, the approach became mainly about making sure the facts were clear and the record was preserved for Brooks' appeal, which is considered a certainty.

After the verdicts were read on Wednesday, Opper requested that Dorow enter judgment on each and every count.

“What is judgment?” Brooks asked the judge.

Without answering him, Dorow entered judgment on all counts, revoked Brooks' bond and arranged for the parties to meet in court on Monday to schedule sentencing.

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