WAUKESHA, Wis. (CN) — The homicide trial over the fatal crash at a Wisconsin Christmas parade last fall reached closing arguments on Tuesday, leaving the case in the hands of the jury.
Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper emphasized in her closing remarks prosecutors’ argument that Darrell Brooks, 40, intentionally drove his red Ford Escape down Main Street in Waukesha during its annual Christmas parade after a domestic incident with his ex-girlfriend on Nov. 21, 2021, 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.
“Those are the individuals who lost their lives because of the conduct of Darrell Brooks,” Opper told jurors.
Opper, accompanied by a slideshow, argued that Brooks’ intent is proven by the fact that, enraged from the incident with his ex, he ignored police officers, barricades and floats and drove right through multiple groups in the parade: the Waukesha South High School marching band, the Waukesha Xtreme Dance Team, the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies and others.
Despite knowing he struck people, Brooks never stopped or even tried to, the state’s attorney said.
“Just stop driving,” Opper said. “That’s it...Not one person had to be hurt that day if he would just stop driving.”
Brooks’ identity as the driver is not in question due to the scores of photographs and videos in evidence connecting him to the SUV, Opper pointed out. His intent is further proven, she said, by evidence showing he desperately attempted to flee the scene of the crime.
“It’s time for Darrell Brooks to stop running…it’s time for him to be held accountable for his actions,” the prosecutor said.
Brooks initially refused to start his closing arguments until Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow proved the court has subject matter jurisdiction—part of his references to the legally debunked sovereign citizen movement in his self-defense—and informed the jury about their nullification powers, which the judge said Brooks does not have the right to argue under the law.
“I am going to inform [the jury] of the power they have,” Brooks said, refusing to back down.
Brooks proceeded to bring up jury nullification – in which jurors return a not-guilty verdict despite believing the defendant broke the law – within the first minute of his remarks. The state objected, Dorow sustained and the comment was struck from the record.
The suspect said he would “speak from the heart” and cried like when he began his defense in earnest last week, telling the jury again that the parade crash was unintentional and that he has felt powerless due to misconceived negative attention on him and his family since the incident.
Brooks challenged the prosecutors’ ability to read his mind at the time of crash, enraged or otherwise, “as if this DA was standing right there…as if this DA was a psychiatrist.” He accused the state of employing “smoke and mirrors” and “theatrics” to make their case against him.
The state also objected twice when Brooks falsely told the jury his Ford Escape was subject to a recall for a throttle body malfunction, which was disproven by testimony from an officer who inspected the SUV after the crash.
The suspect briefly alluded that the driver may have panicked, but throughout his statement he insisted he was heartbroken about the crash and that his "conscience is clear."
Brooks referenced his Christian faith, held up a Bible, and at one point said, “No one will ever know why it was His will for this to happen.”
“Look inside yourself and make the right decision,” the defendant told the jury.
Before closings, Dorow took almost three hours to read roughly three-quarters of the 107-page jury instructions outlining the elements of Brooks’ 76 felony and misdemeanor charges, including six counts of intentional homicide, six counts of hit-and-run involving death and 61 counts of reckless endangerment.
Brooks additionally faces two felony bail jumping counts and one battery misdemeanor related to the altercation with his ex-girlfriend before the parade crash, during which he’s accused of hitting her.
The suspect, who decided to represent himself days before his trial started, faces life in prison without parole if convicted of one of his homicide charges. He has pleaded not guilty to all 76 charges.
The defendant has been removed from the courtroom many times during his trial for constantly interrupting Dorow and impugning her and the court’s authority. This happened twice more Tuesday morning when he refused to stop arguing with her about previous rulings she made.
Dorow has cited a U.S. Supreme Court case, Illinois v. Allen, as her authority to remove Brooks to an empty courtroom next door to beam into proceedings via livestream—which Dorow considered the “functional equivalent” of his presence—because his conduct degrades the dignity and efficiency of the proceedings. He has been intermittently muted by the judge while in the other courtroom.
Throughout his trial, the suspect has at times shouted and pounded the defense table in outbursts ranging from calmer bickering to volatile eruptions of anger. At one point he removed his shirt and threw one his shoes while being removed from the courtroom. At others he has torn up or thrown in the garbage copies of documents given to him by the prosecution or the judge.
Dorow has been the most frequent target of Brooks’ broadsides, as he has repeatedly questioned her integrity and qualifications as a judge and public servant, usually after she rules against him. Once, he stared her down so intensely that she called a brief recess because he was scaring her.
In rebuttal on Tuesday, Opper told the jury not to be fooled by Brooks’ attempts to play on their sympathies and focus on his own hardships over those of the victims’ families.
“I don’t know why he did this. I told you that,” Opper said. “But actions define a person. It’s that simple.”Follow @@cnsjkelly
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