The man convicted of killing six people when he plowed through his SUV during a Christmas parade in suburban Milwaukee last year told a judge ahead of sentencing on Wednesday that he suffered from mental illness since he was young and had no intention of making it to the parade route. . He also offered his first apologies to the dozens of people who were injured or lost loved ones in the incident.
Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow was scheduled 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 issuing the sentence.
Brooks told Dorow in a rambling speech that he grew up fatherless, poor and hungry in apartment buildings infested with rats and bugs. Brooks said he has suffered from mental health issues for as long as he can remember and has been physically abused, although he did not specify by whom. Sometimes he took medication and had short stays in mental health facilities and life was better then, he said.
“People will, like I said, believe what they want, and that’s fine. It must be said: what happened on November 21, 2021 was not, not, not an attack. It wasn’t planned, plotted,” Brooks said, later adding, “It wasn’t an intentional act. No matter how many times you say it over and over again, it wasn’t.”
Brooks also issued 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 you couldn’t see what’s really in my heart,” he said. “That you can’t see the remorse I have.”
Brooks, however, did not explain his motive or offer any further information on what he was thinking about turning the SUV into a parade.
Brooks’ mother and grandmother tried to persuade Dorow to put Brooks in a mental institution instead of jail. His grandmother, Mary Edwards, said Brooks had been bipolar since he was 12, and the disorder prompted him to go to the parade. Her mother, Dawn Woods, pushed Dorow to make sure Brooks received treatment in prison.
“If they’re going to be away from society for the rest of their lives, they’re at least getting the help they need to recover mentally,” Woods said.
Brooks appeared to cry as her 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 marching with his baseball team, as well as three members of a group known as the Dancing Grannies. Dozens of others were injured.
A jury convicted Brooks last month of 76 counts, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and 61 counts of reckless endangerment. Wisconsin does not have the death penalty, but each count of homicide carries a mandatory life sentence and he faces hundreds of years behind bars for the remaining charges.
District Attorney Susan Opper on Tuesday asked Dorow to make the sentences back-to-back so they stack “just like he stacked the victims while he was driving down the road,” with no chance of parole, Wisconsin’s version of parole.
Brooks chose to represent himself during his month-long trial, which was punctuated by his erratic outbursts. He refused to answer his own name, frequently interrupted Dorow, and often refused to stop talking. On several occasions, the judge had ushers move Brooks to another courtroom where he could participate via video, but she could mute his microphone when he became disruptive.
Dorow had no 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.