Fri. Dec 2nd, 2022

A judge on Wednesday sentenced a man who killed six people and injured many others while driving his SUV through a suburban Milwaukee Christmas parade to life in prison without the possibility of parole, rejecting arguments from him and his family that he was driven by mental illness. .

Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow sentenced 40-year-old Darrell Brooks Jr. on 76 charges, including six counts of first-degree murder and 61 counts of reckless endangerment.

Each count of murder carried a mandatory life sentence, and the only uncertainty Wednesday was whether Dorow would allow Brooks to serve any of those sentences on extended community supervision, the current version of parole. She didn’t. Wisconsin does not have the death penalty.

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The gallery applauded as Dorow announced the life sentences. Moments later, she sentenced him to 762 years in prison on charges of endangerment.

“Frankly, Mr. Brooks, no one is safer than you,” Dorow said. “This community can only be safe if you are behind bars for the rest of your life. … You left a path of destruction, chaos, death, injury and panic as you drove seven or more blocks through the Christmas parade.”

Dorow ordered bailiffs to move Brooks to another courtroom where he could participate via video after he became disruptive during her pre-sentencing remarks. He stood motionless in jail clothes and handcuffs as the judge handed down the sentences.

Brooks’ victims demanded during Tuesday’s hearing that Dorow give him the most severe sentence possible. Chris Owens, whose mother was among those killed, told Brooks: “All I ask is that you rot, and rot slowly.”

Click to play video: 'Doorbell video appears to capture arrest of suspect in Waukesha parade crash'

Doorbell video appears to capture the arrest of a suspect in a Waukesha parade crash

Brooks drove his red Ford Escape through a parade in downtown Waukesha on Nov. 21, 2021, after getting into a fight with his ex-girlfriend. Six people died, including 8-year-old Jackson Sparks, who was marching with his baseball team, and three members of a group known as the Dancing Grannies. Dozens of others were injured.

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On Wednesday, before the judge handed down her sentence, Brooks told the court he had suffered from mental illness since he was young and had no plans to drive on the parade route. He also offered his first apology to dozens of people who were hurt or lost loved ones during the incident.

Brooks, who represented himself at the trial, told Dorow in remarks that lasted two hours that he grew up fatherless, poor and hungry in apartment buildings infested with rats and insects. Brooks said he has had mental health issues for as long as he can remember and has been physically abused, although he did not say who specifically abused him. He sometimes took medication and had short stays in mental health facilities, and life was better then, he said.

“People, like I said, will believe what they want, and that’s fine. This needs to be said: What happened on November 21, 2021 was not, was not, was not an attack. It wasn’t planned, planned,” Brooks said, later adding, “This was not an intentional act. No matter how many times he repeated it, it wasn’t.”

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Brooks also offered his first apology to the victims and their families.

“I want you to know that not only am I sorry for what happened, but I’m sorry that you couldn’t see what was truly in my heart,” he said. “So that you don’t see the remorse I have.”

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But Brooks did not explain his motive or offer any other insight into what he was thinking as he turned the SUV into a parade. When Dorow asked him what kind of punishment he thought he should receive, he didn’t answer directly, saying, “I just want to be helped.”

Brooks’ mother and grandmother tried to persuade Dorow to commit Brooks to a mental institution instead of prison. His grandmother, Mary Edwards, said that Brooks has had bipolar disorder since he was 12 years old and that the disorder caused him to ride in the parade. His mother, Dawn Woods, pushed Dorow to get Brooks treatment in prison.

“If they have to stay away from society for the rest of their lives, at least they’ll get the help they need to get better,” Woods said.

Brooks appeared to be crying as his mother spoke.

Click to play video: 'Video shows moments after car crashes into crowd at Waukesha, WI Christmas parade'

Video shows the moments after a car crashed into a crowd at a Christmas parade in Waukesha, WI

Before handing down the sentences, Dorow said she did not believe Brooks was mentally ill, noting that four psychologists who evaluated him earlier this year found he suffered from antisocial personality disorder, but not mental illness.

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“It is my view that his mental health issues did not drive him to do what he did on November 21, 2021 and that they frankly played no role,” the judge said on Wednesday. “It is very clear to me that he understands the difference between right and wrong and he simply chose to ignore his conscience. He is driven by anger and rage.”

Dorow spent much of Tuesday listening to dozens of victims as Brooks asked for the maximum sentence possible. One by one, they described the frantic search for their children in the immediate aftermath, the pain their children endured as they still struggle to recover from their injuries, and the emptiness they feel as they cope with the loss of their dead loved ones.

District Attorney Susan Opper on Tuesday asked Dorow to run the sentences consecutively so they would stack up “like he stacked up the victims as he drove down the road,” with no chance of being released on extended supervision.

Brooks chose to represent himself during his month-long trial, which was punctuated by his erratic outbursts. He refused to answer his name, often interrupted Dorow, and often refused to stop talking. The judge repeatedly asked bailiffs to move Brooks to another courtroom where he could participate via video, but she could turn off his microphone if he became disruptive, just as she did Wednesday.

Richmond reported from Madison, Wisconsin.