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Man accused of killing six at Wisconsin parade can represent himself at trial, judge says

Prosecutors say he drove his SUV through a Christmas parade in downtown Waukesha, running people down, even as police officers shot at his vehicle.
/ Source: Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — A judge decided Wednesday to allow a Wisconsin man accused of killing six people and injuring dozens more when he allegedly drove his SUV through a Christmas parade to represent himself at trial, finding that he suffers from a personality disorder and faces an uphill fight against an experienced prosecutorial team but is mentally competent.

Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow’s decision leaves Darrell Brooks in the unusual position of defending himself against a score of charges, including six counts of intentional homicideHis trial is scheduled to begin Monday with jury selection.

Brooks has a high school equivalency diploma but did not attend college. Dorow said he has a constitutional right to act as his own attorney if he’s mentally competent.

A car drives along the parade route before plowing into the crowd at the Waukesha Holiday Parade. The incident was live-streamed on the City's Facebook page.
A car drives along the parade route before it plows into the crowd at the Waukesha Holiday Parade. The incident was livestreamed on the city's Facebook page.City of Waukesha via Facebook

Dorow said she reviewed evaluations four psychologists conducted of Brooks and agreed with their findings that while he has a personality disorder and is disruptive, he is intelligent and articulate enough to defend himself. She warned him that he will have problems understanding the rules of evidence, when to object to rulings and how to examine witnesses without any training, but she can’t stand in his way.

“This court has warned Mr. Brooks what he’s getting into,” Dorow said.

Darrell Brooks Jr. appears in Waukesha County Court on Aug. 25, 2022, in Waukesha, Wis.
Darrell Brooks Jr. appears in Waukesha County Court on Aug. 25, 2022, in Waukesha, Wis.Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, Pool, file

According to prosecutors and investigators, Brooks drove his SUV through a Christmas parade in downtown Waukesha on Nov. 21. He refused commands to stop and kept driving, running people down, even as police officers shot at his vehicle, according to a criminal complaint.

He would face life in prison if convicted of any of the homicide charges. He faces 71 additional counts, including 61 counts of felony reckless endangerment. Each one of those counts carries a maximum sentence of 12 1/2 years in prison. Those counts also have a use-of-a-dangerous-weapon penalty enhancer, which would add another five years on each count.

Image: Police stand near toppled chairs lining W. Main St. in downtown Waukesha, Wis., after an SUV drove into a parade of Christmas marchers
Police stand near toppled chairs lining West Main Street in downtown Waukesha, Wis., after an SUV drove into a parade of Christmas marchers on Nov. 21.John Hart / Wisconsin State Journal via AP file

He initially pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease but withdrew that plea earlier this month and filed a motion seeking to represent himself. He told Dorow in court on Tuesday that his public defenders, Jeremy Perri and Anna Kees, haven’t explained the nature of the charges to him.

Dorow questioned him repeatedly about whether he understood what he was doing, to which Brooks insisted that he was aware but didn’t understand. Dorow grew so frustrated with him that she adjourned the hearing and continued it Wednesday.

Their exchanges were just as combative on Wednesday. Brooks constantly interrupted Dorow as she tried to explain the ramifications of his decision again and warned him that she likely wouldn’t assign an attorney to the case if he asks for one as the trial progresses.

The judge warned him that if he continues to interrupt during the trial, she will admonish him in front of the jury.

“That’s fine,” Brooks responded.