By TODD RICHMOND
The man convicted of killing six people when he plowed his SUV through a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee last year told a judge ahead of sentencing Wednesday that he has suffered from mental illness since he was young and didn’t plan to drive into the parade route. He also offered his first apology to the dozens of people who were hurt or lost loved ones during the incident.
Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow was expected to sentence Darrell Brooks Jr. to life in prison later Wednesday afternoon. A day after hearing from dozens of victims, Dorow listened to comments from Brooks and his supporters before she handed down the sentence.
Brooks told Dorow in remarks that rambled past two hours that he grew up fatherless, poor and hungry in apartment buildings infested with rats and bugs. Brooks said he has dealt with mental health issues for as long as he can remember and that he was physically abused, though he didn’t say by whom. At times he took medication and did short stints in mental health facilities and life was better then, he said.
“People are going to, like I said, 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 planned, plotted,” Brooks said, adding later: “This was not an intentional act. No matter how many times you say it over and over, it was not.”
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, I’m sorry that you could not see what’s truly in my heart,” he said. “That you cannot see the remorse that I have.”
But Brooks didn’t explain his motive or offer any other insights into what he was thinking as he turned the SUV into the parade. When Dorow asked him what sentence he thought he should get, he didn’t answer directly but said: “I just want to be helped.”
Brooks’ mother and grandmother tried to persuade Dorow to place Brooks in a mental institution rather than prison. His grandmother, Mary Edwards, said Brooks has been bipolar since he was 12 and that disorder caused him to drive into the parade. His mother, Dawn Woods, pushed Dorow to ensure that Brooks receives treatment in prison.
“If they have to stay for the rest of their lives away from society at least they’re getting the help they need to become mentally well,” Woods said.
Brooks appeared to weep as his mother spoke.
Brooks drove his red Ford Escape through the parade in downtown Waukesha on Nov. 21, 2021, after getting into a fight with his ex-girlfriend. Six people were killed, including an 8-year-old boy who was marching with his baseball team, as well as three members of a group known as the Dancing Grannies. Scores of others were injured.
A jury convicted Brooks last month of 76 charges, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and 61 counts of reckless endangerment. Wisconsin does not have the death penalty, but each homicide count carries a mandatory life sentence and he faces hundreds of years behind bars on the remaining charges.
Dorow spent most of Tuesday listening to dozens of victims demand Brooks get the maximum possible sentence. One by one they described frantically searching for their children in the immediate aftermath, the pain their children have 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.
“All I ask is you rot, and you rot slow,” said Chris Owen, son of Leanna Owen, one of the Dancing Grannies who was killed.
District Attorney Susan Opper asked Dorow on Tuesday to make the sentences consecutive so they stack up “just as he stacked victims up as he drove down the road,” with no chance of release on extended supervision, Wisconsin’s version of parole.
Brooks chose to represent himself during his monthlong trial, which was punctuated by his erratic outbursts. He refused to answer to his own name, frequently interrupted Dorow and often refused to stop talking. Multiple times the judge had bailiffs move Brooks to another courtroom where he could participate via video but she could mute his microphone when he became disruptive.
Dorow had little choice but to allow Brooks to represent himself, noting that several psychologists found him competent.
Brooks apologized to Dorow for his antics on Wednesday, saying he was frustrated during the trial and she shouldn’t take it personally.
Richmond reported from Madison, Wisconsin.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.