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Victims of Wisconsin parade crash recount traumas at sentencing hearing

Prosecutors recommended the maximum punishment for the convicted driver, called “evil” by some of the victims confronting him.

WAUKESHA, Wis. (CN) — Dozens of victims of the deadly crash at a Wisconsin Christmas parade last year delivered impact statements on Tuesday as part of a two-day sentencing hearing for the convicted defendant, detailing the carnage of the crash, the unresolved grief of having family members ripped away from them and the ongoing attempts to rebuild their broken lives.

Late last month, Darrell Brooks, 40, was found guilty of six counts of intentional homicide and 70 other charges for his role in the fatal crash in Waukesha nearly one year ago. His chaotic trial lasted 17 days, but the jury deliberated for less than three hours before delivering their verdict. Brooks now faces the potential of multiple life sentences without parole and hundreds more years of imprisonment pending Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow’s ultimate sentencing decision on Wednesday.

Prosecutors called more than 50 witnesses and utilized selections from hundreds of photographs and videos taken before, during and after the crash in successfully making their case at trial that Brooks’ actions—which left six dead and at least 60 injured—were intentional.

One of the first victims to address the court on Tuesday was Sheri Sparks, the mother of 8-year-old Jackson Sparks, who died during surgery after being struck by Brooks. She appeared in court with her other son, Tucker, neither of whom were depicted on a livestream of proceedings.

The mother delved into the pain she and her family continue to feel from losing her son. Life will never be the same without him, she said.

“I wish I would have known then that the hug [Jackson] gave me before I went to sit down was the last hug I’d ever get from him. I would have held onto him a lot longer,” Sparks said.

The more than 40 people who spoke or were spoken for on Tuesday directly confronted Brooks over his lack of remorse for driving his SUV several blocks through a parade of holiday revelers and turning what was supposed to be a joyful celebration into a bloody nightmare.

Many described themselves or family members still feeling jumpy around cars, crowds and loud noises and suffering from panic attacks, post-traumatic stress and other psychological injuries, not to mention the lingering effects of myriad grave physical injuries.

Some victims said they’d found their way to forgiving Brooks. More said they never would, that he did not deserve it. All of them asked Dorow for the maximum sentence possible for every charge.

Jessica Gonzalez gave her statement with her husband at her side. She described finding Jackson Sparks after the crash lying on the ground with his eyes “looking nowhere,” an image she still recalls.

Gonzalez said she feels guilty in her joy that her children survived the crash. But as friends of Sparks, her children experienced their own trauma from his death.

“What is it like to attend a funeral of a child your age? I hate that my children know,” she said.

A statement from an anonymous child delivered by a court official was accompanied by a drawing the child made showing himself after being hit by Brooks’ SUV, with text explaining how much his injuries hurt.

The mother of Jessalynn, another child victim hit by Brooks, detailed harrowing experiences in the hospital dealing with Jessalynn’s many injuries, including a fractured skull and vertebrae, broken ribs and lung contusions. One of Jessalynn’s numerous procedures over the last year included emergency surgery to remedy scar tissue on her trachea caused by a ventilator tube that was preventing her from breathing.

Several victims personally thanked Dorow for her patience and professionalism in handling Brooks’ trial, with one praising her “sainthood” and saying she had become like a mother to the community of victims.

In the afternoon, family of some of those killed in the crash took on an angrier, more hate-filled tone with their remarks.

Chris Owen, the son of deceased victim LeAnna Owen, said he saw “pure, unrepentant evil” in Brooks’ face and that he was disgusted the defendant was allowed to exist.

David Sorenson, husband of deceased victim Virginia Sorenson, called Brooks an “evil animal” and was one of a few victims who said they wished Wisconsin was a death penalty state so Brooks could face death row for his crimes. His sons, Sean and Marshall, also called Brooks and his actions evil in their statements.

The son of another deceased victim told Brooks: “This will never be over until the day I’m pissing on your grave.”

Brooks, who appeared in court wearing his orange jail uniform and a blue surgical mask, could be seen throughout the day of victims’ statements intermittently sitting motionless at the defense table or praying, taking notes and rolling his eyes. Harkening back to a running theme of his trial, Dorow used U.S. Supreme Court precedent as authority to briefly remove Brooks from the courtroom after a disruptive outburst.

At the end of the daylong hearing, Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper referred to Brooks as a “lifelong criminal” and tracked what is known of his roughly two-decade criminal history spanning three states, including many violent offenses and multiple jail sentences. She called Brooks’ actions those of a “narcissistic coward” and recommended the maximum sentences for all charges to be stacked consecutively.

Brooks’ temper flared during Opper’s remarks to the extent he interrupted her and asked Dorow to allow him to go to the neighboring courtroom he was removed to repeatedly during trial. The judge told him that’s not something he can request, and he and Opper briefly yelled at each other.

“I’m not going to sit here and be disrespected,” Brooks said.

When Opper finished, Dorow adjourned proceedings until noon on Wednesday, when at least three people are expected to speak on Brooks’ behalf before the judge considers his sentence.

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