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Wisconsin parade crash suspect begins defense at murder trial

After nearly three weeks of trial and dozens of witnesses for the prosecution, Darrell Brooks was given the floor to argue against the life sentence he faces.

WAUKESHA, Wis. (CN) — The defendant in the murder trial over a deadly crash at a Waukesha Christmas parade last fall began making his own case in earnest on Thursday, tearfully asking the jury for fairness and calling two witnesses for his defense.

In the morning, prosecutors recalled a Waukesha police detective as its last witness before resting its case after 10 full days of testimony. After lunch, the next phase of proceedings landed in the hands of Darrell Brooks, the 40-year-old suspect in the parade crash who fired his two public defenders and opted to represent himself days before his trial started.

Before his opening statements, Brooks removed the blue surgical mask he had worn in court every day until then, only having removed it intermittently so the state’s witnesses could identify him. The intent behind this, he would later say, was so the jurors could see him for who he is.

“There’s always two sides to every story,” Brooks said. “Finally, everyone’s getting a chance to get the full story.”

The defendant said it’s not lost on him that the parade incident was “very tragic.” Shortly after, he began choking back tears that did not subside for the next 10 to 15 minutes he spoke.

“What I’m confident that the evidence will show is that this incident was not planned, this incident was not intentional and this incident was never even thought about,” Brooks said.

Brooks acknowledged the suffering of the victims, their families and the community, but also noted the family of “the alleged defendant” has suffered as well.

Part of Brooks’ self-defense, which has referenced tenets of the legally dubious sovereign citizen movement, is that, in court, he is a third-party intervenor advocating for the defendant. He has repeatedly voiced his lack of consent to be referred to as “Darrell Brooks” by the judge, prosecutors or witnesses, and he has insisted he does not know anyone by that name.

Brooks lamented the “speculation” and “ridicule” surrounding his case and that he’s been called things like “demon” and “monster.” He asked the jurors to keep in mind that, ultimately, his fate is up to them.

“I pray that your eyes and ears remain as open as possible. I understand that you alone decide this case…and the power is in your hands, all of you, to determine for yourself what truth is,” he said.

Brooks then thanked the jury, sat at the defense table and sobbed. Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow excused the jury and called a short break for Brooks to compose himself.

Brooks has been removed from the courtroom multiple times during his trial for constantly interrupting Dorow and impugning her authority. This nearly happened again Thursday morning during a heated exchange between the judge and the accused.

The defendant is alleged to have driven his red Ford Escape down Main Street in Waukesha during its annual Christmas parade 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.

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.

The suspect called one witness out of order on Tuesday because of the need of a Spanish interpreter with limited availability.

The first witness Brooks called on Thursday was perhaps no surprise to anyone following the trial: the state of Wisconsin.

When Dorow shot that down, Brooks moved to dismiss his case for the plaintiff’s failure to appear.

Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow argues with the suspect in the trial over a fatal crash at a parade in Waukesha last fall on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022. (Court TV livestream via Courthouse News)

Part of his vague adherence to the beliefs of sovereign citizenship, Brooks has steadfastly maintained that, as an entity and not a person, the state of Wisconsin cannot make a claim against him, rendering his case invalid. He has also said the fact that the state of Wisconsin cannot testify violates his Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser.

The first human witness Brooks called was Nicholas Kirby, a Waukesha man who was present during parts of an altercation the accused had with his ex-girlfriend ahead of the parade crash, during which he allegedly struck her.

Kirby said he is a friend of Kori Runkel, a woman who earlier testified for the prosecution and was also present at the altercation, and, through Runkel, a mutual friend of Brooks’ ex-girlfriend, Erika Patterson, who has a 15-year-old child with Brooks and also previously testified.

The witness said he warned Patterson against meeting with Brooks the day of the parade, telling her, “I have a bad feeling about this.’” Kirby said Patterson had shown him Brooks’ rap sheet and photo about a week prior.

Patterson called him that afternoon saying Brooks was assaulting her as they drove in his SUV and she needed help, Kirby testified. With Runkel, he ran toward a local elementary school where they might be and called the police, telling officers to look out for “a red SUV with a woman screaming out of it.”

Brooks challenged Kirby’s version of events, pulling up portions of previously admitted video evidence and probing whether he actually saw what he claims he saw.

The defendant faces two felony bail jumping charges and one battery misdemeanor related to the domestic abuse altercation. The bail jumping charges stem from bond conditions in a Milwaukee felony case barring Brooks from contacting Patterson, evidence of which was blocked by Dorow for Brooks’ trial.

Brooks has subpoenaed Patterson to testify again for his defense, perhaps as soon as Friday.

Also testifying Thursday was Heather Reimer, a woman who attended the parade. She claimed she heard a car horn honking as Brooks’ red SUV drove through the parade route but could not be sure it was the red SUV doing the honking.

Many of the more than 40 witnesses who have testified so far said they never heard Brooks honk his horn as he plowed through the parade.

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