Man found guilty of killing 6 people with SUV during Christmas parade
MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A Wisconsin man was convicted on Wednesday of killing six people and injuring dozens of others while driving his SUV in a Christmas parade last year, ending a lawsuit during which he had defended himself in an erratic and sometimes confrontational manner.
It took just over three hours for the jury to find Darrell Brooks guilty on 76 counts, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide. He faces a mandatory life sentence for each count of homicide.
Brooks, dressed in a suit and tie, quietly rested his bowed head on clasped hands as the verdicts were read. His behavior was a stark departure from the previous days of the trial, when his sometimes outrageous behavior earned him rebuke from the judge.
Brooks drove his Ford Escape through the Christmas Parade in suburban Milwaukee’s Waukesha on Nov. 21 moments after fleeing a domestic dispute with his ex-girlfriend, prosecutors said.
Six people were killed, including 8-year-old Jackson Sparks, who participated in the parade with his baseball team, and three members of the Dancing Grannies, a group of grandmothers who dance in parades. Dozens of other people were injured, some seriously.
The incident deeply scarred the community of 70,000 people about 25 miles west of Milwaukee. Community members built memorials to the dead and held vigils. The anger was still evident on Wednesday; someone in the gallery shouted « burn in hell » as the verdicts were read.
Brooks pleaded not guilty by reason of mental illness this year, but withdrew his plea before his trial began without an explanation. Days before the start of the trial, he dismissed his public defenders, choosing to represent himself.
District Attorney Susan Opper called to the stand officers and bystanders who testified to seeing Brooks driving the SUV.
Brooks struggled to mount a defense, engaging in winding cross-examinations, refusing to acknowledge his own name or the court’s jurisdiction over him, and mumbling under his breath that the trial was unfair.
He had such intense arguments with Judge Jennifer Dorow that several times during the preparation for jury selection, she moved him to another courtroom where he could watch the proceedings by video and she could mute his microphone when he became disruptive.
A day after being moved to the other courtroom, he took off his shirt and sat shirtless on the defense table with his back to the camera. Another day, he built a barricade with his boxes of legal documents and hid behind it. He also threw his copy of the jury instructions in the trash.
Opper told jurors during closing arguments on Tuesday that Brooks’ refusal to stop once he entered the parade route shows he intended to kill people.
Dorow allowed Brooks to return to the main courtroom to deliver his closing remarks face-to-face with the jurors. In a rambling and repetitive speech, he tried to raise doubts about whether the SUV’s throttle was malfunctioning and the driver had simply panicked. He lamented that he had not been able to see his children since his arrest and insisted he was not a murderer.
Opper countered in his rebuttal that a Wisconsin State Patrol vehicle inspector testified earlier that the SUV was in good working order. She warned jurors that Brooks was just trying to play on their sympathy.
Todd Richmond, The Associated Press