Darrell Brooks sentencing: Life in prison without extended supervision
WAUKESHA, Wis. - Darrell Brooks was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of extended supervision and will spend the rest of his life behind bars. Judge Jennifer Dorow threw the book at Brooks Wednesday, Nov. 16, handing down the maximum sentence, drawing applause from the courtroom filled with victims and their families.
Brooks apologized for what happened but not for the fact that he was responsible for it. He stressed that this was not an attack.
Brooks was convicted on 76 charges tied to the Waukesha Christmas parade attack in November 2021.
He got life without extended supervision for each of the six first-degree intentional homicide charges after taking the lives of Jane Kulich, Jackson Sparks, Bill Hospel, Tamara Durand, Lee Owen and Virginia Sorenson.
On 61 counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, Dorow gave him 12.5 years of initial confinement, plus 5 years of extended supervision. That's 762.5 years in prison.
On six counts of felony hit-and-run, Dorow gave him 15 years of initial confinement plus 10 years of extended supervision. That's 90 years in prison. On two counts of felony bail jumping, Dorow gave him 3 years of initial confinement and 3 years of extended supervision. That's 6 years.
On the one count of misdemeanor battery, he was sentenced to 9 months.
Dorow ordered the sentences for counts 68-73 concurrent. That wipes 90 years from the total. She also ordered counts 74 and 75 be consecutive to all other charges, but concurrent to one another, which knocks that down to 3 years.
That brings the total to 766 years and 3 months in prison -- in addition to the six consecutive life sentences.
Judge Dorow read the names of each of the victims in announcing the sentences associated with them. Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper said that sentiment was appreciated by the victims.
"That was really tremendous," said Opper. "The victims are really grateful for that, that she respected and cared about each one of them enough to name them."
Brooks has 20 days to appeal his conviction.
Brooks sentencing, Day 2
Darrell Brooks and those who were speaking on his behalf made their statements in Waukesha County court on Wednesday morning.
To begin the day, the prosecution team noted there was one more victim witness statement that was requested to be made by the granddaughter of Virginia Sorenson, a Milwaukee Dancing Grannies member killed in the attack. Her statement on Tuesday had been interrupted by the clearing of the court due to a threat made at the courthouse. The court agreed to allow that young girl to speak, and that statement was read in court once again.
When asked, Brooks indicated to the court that four people would be speaking on his behalf, all via Zoom.
Dawn Woods, Brooks' mother, spoke first. She started by speaking about mental illness and how it impacts everyone. Woods called it the "dirty little secret in families that they don't want to talk about."
Woods then read to the court the poem, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," written by Maya Angelou. Woods told Judge Dorow she hoped it would provide some inspiration to her son.
Woods finished by speaking to the families of the victims of the Waukesha Christmas parade tragedy.
"To the families who lost loved ones and those who suffered injuries, that I know their pain, and I pray that the Lord will continue to comfort and heal each of them," Woods said.
Brooks' grandmother, Mary Edwards, spoke next on Darrell's behalf.
"I want to offer my sincere apologies to those hurt," Edwards said. "It is my expectation my grandson will apologize and ask God for forgiveness."
Mary Edwards, Darrell Brooks' grandmother
Michelle Allworth, a longtime friend of Brooks spoke next. She called Brooks her best friend, having known him for 17 years.
"He shared with me multiple times how remorseful he truly is," Allworth said.
Brooks' statement to the court
It was around 12:35 p.m. that Brooks himself was allowed to speak to the court. He began by standing up before the court, looking up and quoting scripture.
"A lot of references were made to one of the things I said about my consciousness being clear. Having time to think about it last night, the victims have the right to feel how they want to feel. They have the right to their opinions -- lots of anger and emotions," Brooks said. "I don’t want that comment to be taken out of context. I made the decision to rededicate my life to Christ when this tragedy happened."
Brooks had been taking notes during the victim statements that were made Tuesday.
"One of the victims made a comment about trying to understand why this happened. That’s a question I struggle with myself. The why, the how," Brooks said. "How can life ever get this far away from what it should be? Regardless of what a lot of people may think about me, about who I am, family, beliefs, I know who I am. God knows who I am."
Brooks told the court he did not have any words of anger.
"I had to look inside myself and understand why the comments were made," Brooks said.
Brooks referred to the surgical mask he wore throughout the trial proceedings. He told the court it had nothing to do with hiding anything.
"When you are on TV every day, when your life is being dissected and your family is on TV and social media platforms, what is there to hide from?" Brooks said.
Brooks then referenced all of the victims of the Waukesha Christmas parade attack, as well as the people of Waukesha.
"Not only am I sorry for what happened, I'm sorry that you could not see what is truly in my heart," Brooks said. "With respect to how I’m viewed, I will not respond to those comments in anger, either. I want to also say that it is not me that can take any pain away, replace what was lost, give back joy, happiness, so many other things lost that day."
Brooks talked about the frustration he said he felt during his trial.
"I’ve become frustrated at times. I want you, Judge Dorow, to know that regardless to what you might think about those incidents, they were not personal. Being here throughout this year, the constant learning how to deal with everything, take everything in, what you see, hear, things being shouted at you, the threats and everything you have to deal with just being here, it was a culmination," Brooks said. "There was a part of me that felt I haven’t been able to defend myself. I think it was just the pot boiling over."
Brooks told the court that people are going to believe what they want, and that's OK.
"This needs to be said. What happened on Nov. 21, 2021, was not, not, not an attack. It was not, not planned, plotted," Brooks said. "This was not an attack. This was not an intentional act. No matter how many times you say it over and over, it was not."
Brooks told the court he originally planned to attack Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper during his statement, but he chose not to do so after considering the idea.
"You said 31 years you’ve done this. 31 years. Hmm. I don’t believe you are that bright. Yet I respect you having the resolve to take on something of this magnitude for this community. Can’t do nothing but respect that," Brooks said.
Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper
Brooks made reference to receiving letters and notes from around the world. He said he received letters from Germany and Belgium. Many of those letters spewed hate for Brooks' actions, he said, but there were also letters of support.
"The people who have sent letters of support, I thank you for that. It’s not an easy thing to send to the most hated man on Earth. I thank you for that. My family thanks you for that," Brooks said.
Brooks also made particular note of recognizing Erika Patterson, the mother of his daughter.
"I want you to know I will always have love for you. I refuse to go that route. I always have love for you. Always respect you. We have a beautiful daughter. I haven’t always been right in regards to you," Brooks said.
Brooks also spoke emotionally of his daughter.
"She’s probably the single-handed reason why I’m still breathing. Such a light. Such a light. She doesn’t even understand what is going on. To be able to talk to me when she wants to, see me, she doesn’t get it. I know that," Brooks said.
Brooks mentioned there had been a lot of references to death during Tuesday's victim statements. He stated he does not fear death and is confident of his fate in the afterlife.
"I’m a million percent confident where I’m going when this is over. I’m a million percent confident where I’m going," Brooks said. "I’m a human being. I’m not a monster. I’m a human being trying to figure out for 35 years questions I never got the answer to."
Brooks said he listened to all the victims who had the courage to speak on Tuesday.
"I apologize for not showing people what they wanted to see. I ask that there be understanding to…that there is a side of the courtroom that's not seen," Brooks said. "There's not a day or hour that goes by that I haven't thought about what's happened, that I haven't tried to wrap my head about how something like this could have happened, where I haven't thought about the pain that you all are in, what was lost and the fashion that it was lost."
Brooks mentioned he will do what he can to press forward and pray for the community of Waukesha.
"As hard as it is, you can't turn back the hands of time. As much as I wish I had the power to do that, I can’t. I have to look at life going forward, not backward," Brooks said. "I’ve moved past the actual tragedy of Nov. 21, 2021, but I have not moved past uplifting this community in prayer. The victims and families, I will continue to pray for them. That’s what I want my heart to reflect."
Late in Brooks' statement to the court, Judge Dorow asked Brooks what the court should do about the sentences.
"Honestly, your Honor, I don’t want this to be taken out of context. I believe that there are issues with me attempting to answer that," Brooks said. "I’m still confused on the true nature and cause of the charges. I don’t understand them. I also believe the decision was already made before we even got here. I could be wrong. That’s not a slight or shot towards your Honor."
When pressed again as to how the judge should deal with the sentencing of Brooks, he paused before answering.
"I think I should be able to go somewhere where I can be helped and be properly helped and medicated," Brooks said. "You have people who know exactly what to do, exactly what needs to be done and should be done, to be able to properly be medicated. It’s extremely needed."
Judge's final judgment
Judge Jennifer Dorow returned after a brief recess around 3 p.m. to begin revealing her final judgment against Darrell Brooks and the reasons behind it. The judge started her statement by addressing mental health.
"I’m not here to debate that you have had a history, over time, of intersecting with the mental health agencies and that you may have, in your history, trauma, emotional pain and things of that nature," the judge said.
Judge Jennifer Dorow
Dorow said after multiple evaluations, it was her belief there was no doubt that Brooks was competent and well-versed in the legal standard, but she said that was something the court was not concerned about at any point.
"It was really only after the trial began that that issue was raised, I think, by the public, based on what they saw," Dorow said.
The judge said the mentally ill do sometimes commit crimes. She stated this was not one of those situations.
"There are many times when good people do bad things, but there are times when evil people do evil things… Child trauma, bipolar, indifference, physical abuse of a child did not cause Darrell Brooks to commit the acts for which he will be sentenced," Dorow said. "It is very clear to this court that he understands the difference between right and wrong and simply chooses to ignore his conscience. He is fueled by anger and rage. Some people, unfortunately, choose a path of evil, and I think Mr. Brooks is one of them."
Judge Dorow stated as a mom, she feels for Brooks' family because it is easier for them to blame mental illness than it is to come to terms with what he did.
"The bottom line is none of that caused you to do what you did on Nov. 21 of 2021," the judge said.
A little bit after 3:30 p.m., as Judge Dorow proceeded with her statement, Brooks commented After an outburst in court, Judge Dorow sent Brooks to an adjacent courtroom so she could resume with the statement. The court went into a brief recess.
When court came back from recess, Brooks was in the adjacent courtroom. He made attempts to get the judge's attention to be brought back into the courtroom, but Judge Dorow insisted, unless he could pledge on paper that he would not create any more disruptions, he would remain in that adjacent court.
Judge Dorow continued referring to all the instances in which Brooks had an opportunity to stop and not proceed down the Waukesha Christmas Parade route. She spoke of all the victims and the evidence in the case that will linger with her.
"It’s hard not to think about what I watched. Those images kept me up at night, for what I saw over and over and over," Dorow said. "The only time we ever heard about brakes was when Jane Kulich was on top of that vehicle, and he hit the brakes so he could get her off."
Judge Jennifer Dorow
After leaving the Waukesha Christmas Parade route, the judge offered this…
"What did Darrell Brooks do after? He ditched the vehicle. He changes his appearance. He put his hair up. He asked unsuspecting people to use their phone to call an Uber, all within minutes of this happening. He was in such a hurry to get out of there he left his phone in the SUV," Judge Dorow said. "That is at 5:01 p.m. That is minutes, minutes after all of this happened."
The judge pointed out, it was thanks to an astute Waukesha resident that Brooks was finally arrested by police.
"Noticing that after Mr. Brooks being in his home maybe 8-9 minutes, he saw squads driving by. I think you could say he felt in his gut something wasn’t right," the judge said.
Judge Jennifer Dorow
The judge noted that Brooks spent close to two hours in his final statement to the court.
"You know, at times, we’ve seen the eye-rolling, the fake clapping, the laughing, hand gesturing. Many times and most times, very emotionless unless he’s doing those things, which would be really inappropriate and are inappropriate. His reactions are largely negative when things are not going his way. What did this community suffer from this tragedy?" asked Judge Dorow.
Shortly before 5 p.m., Brooks requested to be brought back into the court. Judge Dorow agreed to allow that, but as soon as Brooks was back in court, the disruptions continued. Brooks was removed from court once again.
With Brooks in the adjacent courtroom, Judge Dorow proceeded.
"There are so many aggravating factors here, it’s, frankly, difficult to even keep track of them all. The complete disregard for the lives of anyone else that day. Someone described it as ‘depraved indifference,’ and I think that is the perfect phrase to capture the actions of Darrell Brooks," the judge said. "The fact that he mowed over and used that vehicle as a battering ram to hit 68 individuals, never once stopping, with rage and anger at unsuspecting people at a parade who are there to simply kick off the holiday season, the intentionality of the conduct is outstanding. The viciousness, the speed, the swerving from side to side at various points, this was not a case of who done it. From the very beginning, when this case was charged, it was clear who did this."
Judge Jennifer Dorow
The judge stated Brooks had "outright denial of what he did."
"I searched for a mitigating factor in this case. I waited patiently for an apology, a true apology. I didn’t get it, and not for my benefit, but for the victims," Judge Dorow said. "Never once, Mr. Brooks, showing any signs of distress, of any emotion of what he had just done. Cool, calm, collected. Certainly not a sign of someone who had any remorse for what he had just done. Someone who’s involved in an accident, even a tragic accident, one where they flee the scene and are later caught oftentimes show incredible remorse, tears. Not tears for themselves, but tears for what they’ve caused, a recognition of the loss of life for example from their conduct. Nothing."
In the end, Judge Dorow sentenced Darrell Brooks to life in prison with no chance for extended supervision.
Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly
"I am thankful that the trail is behind us so we as a community can continue to focus on taking steps forward."
Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson
"Today justice was served. Today starts a new chapter in healing for our community. Today also demonstrates our continued resiliency and our strong sense of community."
Waukesha Fire Chief Steve Howard
"On behalf of our first responders, and as a member of this community, we are thankful for the actions and decisions of the Court. Although healing will continue, we are confident that the strength of this great community will endure and be the foundation for moving forward showing kindness and compassion."