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Waukesha Christmas parade crash driver sentenced to life without parole

The judge said the sentence was motivated by the viciousness with which the defendant attacked the parade’s revelers, his lack of remorse and the trauma he inflicted on the community.

WAUKESHA, Wis. (CN) --- The driver convicted of killing six and injuring dozens while plowing through a Waukesha Christmas parade last fall was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences without parole plus hundreds of additional years of imprisonment on Wednesday.

Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow said the interests of righteous punishment, the need to protect the community and justice and closure for the victims all required that Darrell Brooks, 40, spend the rest of his life behind bars.

After 17 days of trial, Brooks was quickly found guilty by the jury in late October after less than three hours of deliberation. He faced 76 charges, including six counts of intentional homicide and 61 counts of reckless endangerment, for driving his Ford Escape through Waukesha’s annual Christmas parade on Nov. 21, 2021.

Brooks received consecutive life sentences without parole for the deaths of Virginia Sorenson, 79; LeAnna Owen, 71; Tamara Durand, 52; Jane Kulich, 52; Wilhelm Hospel, 81; and Jackson Sparks, 8.

He also got maximum sentences for the reckless endangerment counts, six counts of hit-and-run involving death, two counts of felony bail jumping and a domestic abuse battery misdemeanor, adding nearly another 800 years on top of his life sentences.

The convicted man is on the hook for more than $171,000 in restitution to be paid out of whatever money he earns in prison.

Dorow, who at times fought back tears during sentencing, acknowledged that much of Brooks’ sentence was symbolic, but she said it “needs to hold you accountable in a very real and tangible way.”

The judge took about three hours explaining her sentencing decision and factors influencing it, including the strength of the prosecution’s case against Brooks, the harrowing statements victims gave in court on Tuesday and Brooks’ mental competence at the time of the crash and while acting has his own lawyer at trial.

Before he dispensed of them and decided to represent himself days before his trial started, Brooks’ public defenders this summer briefly planned to enter an insanity plea on their client’s behalf before the defense was dropped.

Dorow read from pre-trial psychiatric evaluations of Brooks during her sentencing remarks, saying the doctors who evaluated Brooks concluded he was mentally competent and that, while he may have emotional and behavioral disorders, his mental health played no role in the parade tragedy.

The judge said Brooks had every opportunity not to do what he did but noted that, while he understands the difference between right and wrong, he is “fueled by anger and rage,” illustrated by his lengthy history of violence, especially domestic abuse.

“Some people unfortunately choose a path of evil, and I think Mr. Brooks is one of them,” she said.

“The seriousness of this offense can frankly be summed up with one word: attack,” the judge said, adding that no other word is fit to describe it.

Enraged from an altercation with his ex-girlfriend, during which he hit her, Brooks ignored police, barricades and spectators and drove straight through the parade route, maliciously striking at least 68 people and never stopping, Dorow said. She considered the loss of life, numerous injuries and Brooks’ lack of remorse and denial of culpability as some of many aggravating factors influencing his sentence.

The judge also considered the circumstances of Brooks’ two open felony cases in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. Those cases, in part, allege Brooks hit the same ex-girlfriend he hit on the day of the parade, tried to run her over with the same car he drove through the parade, and then threatened her in an attempt to get her to recant statements she made to police.

Like many times throughout his trial, during sentencing Dorow cited U.S. Supreme Court precedent to twice remove Brooks to a neighboring courtroom to listen to proceedings on a livestream when he refused to stop arguing with her and obey her orders.

Before sentencing, Brooks’ mother, grandmother, and a woman he referred to as his best friend spoke on his behalf.

His mother, Dawn Woods, talked in general terms about the crisis of mental illness and offered that accountability is important but there is more than jail to rehabilitate the mentally ill. She then read Maya Angelou’s 1969 poem “Caged Bird,” a piece often interpreted as being about the struggles of Black Americans in the civil rights movement but which Woods said also applies to mentally ill people.

Brooks’ grandmother claimed he has suffered from bipolar disorder since he was 12, apologized for those hurt by her grandson and requested mental health treatment for him. His longtime friend said she considered Brooks as part her family, noting how he helped her in the past when she had seizures. She also said he should go to a mental health facility instead of prison.

Brooks himself rehashed many topics from his opening and closing arguments in remarks that lasted more than two hours, painting himself as an unfairly misunderstood man of God and dedicated father, underscoring how hard the last year has been for him and his family, and again forcefully asserting that driving through the parade route was unplanned and unintentional and that he still cannot comprehend why or how it could have happened.

Even in offering his most unconditional apology yet to victims and their families, Brooks held firm that they were misreading him.

“I want you to know that, not only am I sorry for what happened, I’m sorry that you could not see what’s truly in my heart,” including his remorse, he said.

Brooks also talked about his mental health, saying it is something he has dealt with his whole life. He said he has spent brief stints in mental health facilities, and that it helped.

During her sentencing statement, Dorow called Brooks’ attempt to blame mental health for his crimes “feeble,” though she said she could understand why his family might cling to that rationale.

Despite everything, the parade crash driver said he does not fear death or judgment from God.

“I’m a million percent confident in where I’m going,” he said.

Dorow ultimately cut off Brooks’ statements when she felt he was going in circles and took a 15-minute break before returning with his sentence.

The judge said Brooks has 20 days to appeal the court’s decision. It’s considered all but certain that he will.

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