Darrell Brooks verdict: Guilty on all counts in Waukesha Christmas parade attack
WAUKESHA, Wis. - A jury found Darrell Brooks guilty on all counts Wednesday, Oct. 26 in the Waukesha Christmas parade attack that took place Nov. 21, 2021. The jury deliberated for less than three hours.
This, after a more than three-week trial that was, perhaps, unlike any other we've seen. Brooks was convicted of all 76 counts, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide.
As the verdicts were read in open court, someone in the gallery yelled, "Burn in hell, you piece of (expletive)" and was removed from the courtroom.
After the verdicts were read, Judge Jennifer Dorow polled the jury, and each of them confirmed the verdicts as read in court were true. When the judge asked Brooks if he was satisfied with the polling, he said no. The court accepted the verdicts and entered a judgment of conviction on all counts. Dorow thanked the jury for its service and discharged its members.
Dorow said the court would revoke bond for Brooks, who never posted the $5 million sum. The parties were ordered to return to court Monday, Oct. 31 to schedule Brooks' sentencing. The judge said she would allow people to appear via Zoom.
Brooks initially faced 83 charges in the case. Before trial, in late August, Judge Dorow sided with the defense and struck Counts 78-83 (six counts of homicide by vehicle, use of a controlled substance). The judge ruled there could not be multiple punishments for the same crime.
On Sept. 30, Count 77, misdemeanor battery/domestic abuse, was dismissed by prosecutors.
The 76 charges Brooks was tried on included six counts of first-degree intentional homicide for the six people killed. Heading into the trial, we knew that just one homicide conviction could put Brooks behind bars for life.
READ MORE: Darrell Brooks guilty: Local, state leaders react to verdict
Prosecutor, victims respond
Wednesday afternoon, Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper spoke on the verdict reached earlier that morning.
"It's obviously quite satisfying that Mr. Brooks has been found guilty and held accountable for his actions," Opper said. "We're very relieved."
"As far as handling the actual court proceedings, we felt very, very offended by (Brooks') behavior, his disrespect of the court," Opper continued.
Opper said a challenge in the case was preparing for what "nonsense would come out of (Brooks') mouth" and making sure to have legal responses prepared. She also said the state vowed early on they would not put children on the stand.
"This case was unique because the activity was videotaped," said Opper. "Most cases, we have to rely on eyewitness accounts. We had videograph evidence of his behavior all up and down the crime scene, throughout the neighborhood. In that way, it wasn’t difficult. The difficulty and challenges we faced was what nonsense was going to come out of his mouth next."
The district attorney also conveyed the significance of the victims and their families: "The motivation we received from those families was tremendous."
"This is a joyous day for that reason," said Opper. "It's also the point where we hope everyone can move on from."
"We thought of those mothers and fathers sitting in hospital rooms with their children, and the ongoing care that they're still physically healing from and certainly, emotionally healing from," Opper continued.
Brooks has a right to an appeal, Opper said, adding she expects him to exercise that right. However, she said she is confident in the record that the judge made as it relates to the validity of an appeal.
Opper also applauded the community, as well as first responders, for their response immediately after the attack to provide help to those who needed it.
"You cannot imagine until you saw some of those videos how horrific it would have been to stand there and watch that," Opper said of the attack.
Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson also spoke, thanking prosecutors and conveying the significance of the verdict, calling it "just and right." He said Brooks' actions "do not define this community."
Family of Virginia Sorenson, one of four Milwaukee Dancing Grannies members who were killed in the attack, thanked prosecutors. Her son said they had her ashes with them in the courtroom as the verdict was read.
"Justice was served for my wife, Virginia Sorenson, our three children and the whole Sorenson clan," said David Sorenson, Virginia's husband.
"We've been praying for this day for a long time, and this morning, my 5-year-old daughter came up to me and handed me this necklace with my mom's ashes in it. She told me to take my mom with us," said Marshall Sorenson, Virginia's son. "My mom always used to tell us, when we were kids, in our family, that she always said, ‘Angels watch over you guys,’ so I just want to say, ‘Angels watch over you guys,’ and turn on those blue lights tonight."
The Dancing Grannies shared this message on social media shortly after the verdict was read: "Milwaukee Dancing Grannies are working on a statement regarding the outcome of the trial. We hope to have it posted by this evening. We need time to take this all in, process, grieve, and regroup. This has been a long emotional road, wounds have been reopened, as there is a fraction of relief, trauma is still real. Hopefully later this evening or within the next few days we will have better thoughts. Time is needed to continue to heal, while never forgetting."
The father of Jackson Sparks, 8, killed in the parade attack, shared this message on social media Wednesday night: "Today was a hard day, but a good day. This one is for you my sweet little boy! Keep hitting homers in heaven till we meet again. #JusticeForJackson #WaukeshaStrong
Jeff Rogers, the president of Jackson's baseball team, the Waukesha Blazers, shared this message: "Blazers Community: The last year has been extremely challenging, but today justice was served. The verdicts will never be able to fully repair the damage that has been done, but this is a step in the right direction. I want to thank you all for your prayers, your support, and your kindness throughout this tragedy. We will continue healing together. God bless you and your families."
Tyler Pudleiner, injured in the attack as a member of his school's marching band, called the verdict "another step forward" and thanked prosecutors and first responders.
"I know that this will give us healing," said Pudleiner. "This is another step forward in this process. We've been resilient all the way through. One of the things that I've said so much throughout this is that we're stronger than him, and it's been proven today. I want to thank Sue, Zach, Lesli, all those guys for their hard work, Jen and her staff and especially, those first responders. It's been brought up. They are the ones that, especially, kept me here, gave us a second chance and they've kept our community strong."
Laurie Hogeland, who knows the families of three of the people killed in the parade attack (Jackson Sparks, Jane Kulich and Tamara Durand) said the guilty verdicts bring "some closure."
"But there's some of us that, it's gonna be haunting us the rest of our lives," said Hogeland. "He says that he's not a murderer. Well, guess what? Today proved that he is a murderer."
"Even if you go down to a baseball game, you're constantly reminded that [Jackson's] never gonna be up to the plate, his smiling face," Hogeland continued. "I mean, yeah, we have pictures of the past, but nothing going forward, you know? It's hard."
Darcey Bauer, whose mother was at the parade and whose friends witnessed some people die at the parade, said, "I think that this has made us stronger."
"It might not show right now, but I think it made us stronger and I think everyone's kind of been in limbo, not able to heal until today," said Bauer. "This guy tried to destroy our community, you know, in a fit of rage, and he didn't succeed and I hope that the world now can see all of us healing."
The state began laying out its case-in-chief Thursday, Oct. 6, working to prove that Darrell Brooks was behind the wheel of the red Ford Escape that drove through the Waukesha Christmas Parade route on Nov. 21, 2021, killing six and injuring more than 60. Prosecutors called 57 witnesses over 11 days.
Prosecutors tried to convince the jury that Brooks, in rage after a fight with Erika Patterson, his ex, at Frame Park, barreled through the parade in his red SUV, hitting people and not stopping.
Brooks was arrested shortly after the attack. Prosecutors say he showed up at a nearby home, banging on the door, asking for a ride. The SUV was parked nearby.
Witnesses for the prosecution included law enforcement and first responders -- some who were at the parade as civilians with their families. One police officer gave testimony about how he fired his service weapon at the red SUV, trying to get it to stop. Other police officers gave testimony about the speed of the SUV, one saying his speed analysis allowed him to come to the conclusion that the SUV was traveling between 33 and 34 miles per hour in the 25 mph zone (when there's not a parade going on). A State Patrol accident reconstructionist said the SUV's "average" speed on Main Street past Clinton was 32 miles per hour.
Video of Darrell Brooks Jr. allegedly driving through Waukesha Christmas parade
We also heard from people associated with Darrell Brooks, including Erika Patterson, his ex-girlfriend, and Patterson's roommate, with whom Brooks was in the fight at Frame Park before the Christmas parade attack.
Prosecutors also called to the stand witnesses who were at the parade that day, who identified Darrell Brooks as the driver.
There was emotional testimony from parade participants and attendees who were injured or saw their friends killed or children hurt by the red SUV.
Nicole White was the first person struck by the SUV and the first to be cross-examined by Darrell Brooks, representing himself in this trial. White testified she was struck from behind by the SUV, which rolled over her legs. At times, she appeared to be nervously shaking.
From there, the prosecution seemed to go down the parade route, calling witnesses in the order in which they were impacted.
There was emotional testimony from Jeff Rogers, president of the Waukesha Blazers baseball team. He talked about how he found Jackson Sparks, 8, on the ground "motionless" after the SUV came through their group. He later saw someone giving the boy CPR. Sparks later died at the hospital.
Alyssa Gajewski, coach of the Waukesha Xtreme Dance Team, broke down into tears on the stand as she watched video of the SUV barreling into her girls. Fifteen members of her group were hurt. She talked about how she found them after they were hit and their conditions in the "overflowing" hospital.
There was testimony about the death of Jane Kulich, who was walking with Citizens Bank co-workers. The driver of their float truck said he "watched the body fly up onto the hood, her body snap back, and I thought I could have reached out and grabbed her." He estimated the SUV's speed at roughly 30 mph.
Laura Thein gave emotional testimony about her four friends who died in the parade attack, members of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, a group she described as a "sisterhood." Virginia Sorenson, Bill Hospel, Tamara Durand and Lee Owen were killed. Durand was marching in her first and last parade, and Thein said she was "so excited" to be a granny. Sorenson was the "glue" of the group, she said. She talked about how Bill, whose wife is a granny, volunteered with the group, carrying ice chips for them to snack on during the parades. She said she identified Owen as one of the deceased via police photograph after the attack.
Dr. Amy Sheil, Waukesha County associate medical examiner, became choked up on the stand while talking about the autopsy and cause of death for young Jackson Sparks.
There was also testimony from police officers and citizens who came into contact with the red SUV after the attack. Some said they saw the driver, including one who said the "beat up" SUV was ditched in his driveway on Maple Avenue, and he saw the driver get out and run away. A police officer testified the SUV was registered to Dawn Woods, Brooks' mother, and there was information inside the vehicle with the name "Darrell Brooks."
The jury also heard from people with surveillance video that prosecutors said showed Darrell Brooks before and after the parade incident. This included the man who said Brooks showed up on his front porch, captured by his Ring doorbell camera.
Waukesha parade attack victims identified
Additionally, the jury saw body camera video of Brooks' arrest and heard audio or saw video of his interviews with law enforcement in the hours and days after the Christmas parade attack.
The jury was also taken out of the courtroom to see the red SUV in a secure garage near the courtroom, and jury members heard from law enforcement involved in the search and inspection of that vehicle, including DNA analysts.
Brooks' defense during prosecution's presentation of evidence
During the state's presentation of its case-in-chief, Brooks' defense seemed to be focused on three things: identification of the driver, intent of the driver and his "sovereign citizen"/subject matter jurisdiction arguments.
On cross-examination, Brooks asked witnesses questions about their description of the driver, if they saw the driver and then the intent of the driver. Brooks asked questions such as whether the witness heard a horn honking (which could have, perhaps, been an effort by the driver to warn people the SUV was coming). He questioned whether the driver of the SUV could have even exited the parade route with all the barricades in place, marking off the parade route. He questioned how well witnesses could even see the driver, asking multiple witnesses if the windows on the SUV were tinted and how far away they were from the vehicle/how fast it was going when it came past them.
Brooks also called for a dismissal of the case/adjournment with his "sovereign citizen" and subject matter jurisdiction arguments, going on a 50-minute rant at one point that involved the use of the word "treason" and his demand for the judge to recuse herself, arguing the jury was biased against him.
He questioned multiple witnesses regarding the "plaintiff" in this matter, with Brooks arguing that only a living, breathing human being can file a complaint against someone, and the state of Wisconsin is an entity. He argued with the judge about the fact that he "does not identify by the name Darrell Brooks" and that he was in court as a "third-party intervener on behalf of my client." He argued this court did not have jurisdiction over the case. Brooks' "sovereign citizen" and subject matter jurisdiction arguments were denied each time by Judge Dorow.
Brooks even claimed he had COVID in an effort to delay the trial or dismiss the case. He refused to take a rapid test in court. When his test results did come back, he was negative for COVID-19. Prosecutors told the judge Brooks was heard in telephone calls telling his mother he was going to delay the trial.
During the lead-up to jury selection, Brooks often engaged in shouting matches with Judge Jennifer Dorow.
Things got so bad that she removed him from the courtroom several times and placed him in another room where he could watch the proceedings via video, but she could mute his microphone if he became disruptive. One day, he stripped off his shirt and stuck a sign, given to him to signal objections, down his pants.
Brooks was largely respectful of every witness. He mostly reserved his ire for Dorow.
Brooks calls own witnesses
Brooks began laying out his case-in-chief on Thursday, Oct. 20 after crying during his deferred opening statement, telling the jury he believed they would make "the right decision."
Brooks told jurors he hadn’t rehearsed anything and would speak from the heart. However, he didn’t lay out his version of what happened, allude to how he would defend himself or reveal who would testify on his behalf.
Brooks took off the face mask he had been wearing during the trial and wept during his opening statement, telling the jury, "There's two sides to every story."
He told the jury the parade incident "was not planned" and "was not intentional."
He said, "When it’s time for you to make your decision, all of you, I believe that… you’ll make the right decision."
Brooks called 12 witnesses over two days (two were state witnesses that Brooks recalled), representing himself in the case.
Brooks' witnesses included parade participants and attendees, people who saw the SUV after the parade incident, a Waukesha police detective and a man who was present at the alleged fight near Frame Park involving Brooks' ex-girlfriend which prosecutors say preceded the Christmas parade incident.
The defendant also called Erika Patterson, his ex-girlfriend, to the stand. She had previously testified for the state.
She was not the only Brooks' witness who was, at one point, on the state's witness list.
It seemed unclear as to whether Brooks' witnesses helped his defense. Brooks became upset at one point when he was calling his own witnesses because the state had no cross-examination.
FOX6 News spoke with two of Brooks' witnesses in one-on-one interviews outside the courtroom after their testimony, and each of these witnesses, who were Brooks' own witnesses, said they believed he was guilty in this case.
Brooks called two witnesses as he began the presentation of his case-in-chief, and the defendant called nine the next day.
Brooks seemed especially agitated during the first full day of defense testimony, yelling at Judge Dorow multiple times. At one point, he fixed Dorow with an angry stare that, she told the court, frightened her so much she had to call a recess.
During the proceedings that Friday, Judge Dorow noted of the day's events, "To say that this has been the most challenging of my career would be an understatement."
Brooks had the opportunity to testify, under oath, in his own defense. He forfeited that right on Monday.