WAUKESHA, Wis. — The man police say drove an SUV into a Christmas parade crowd last year killing six people tried to set a humbled and conciliatory tone Monday upon his return to a Waukesha courtroom for his homicide trial.
Darrell Brooks Jr., 40, has been defending himself as is accused of 76 counts, including six charges of first-degree intentional homicide, tied to the Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy in November 2021. Prosecutors say he drove down the crowded parade route striking participants and attendees.
Before testimony resumed Monday Brooks, wearing a suit, told Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow he was sorry about his behavior last week. In the first days of trial, he often interrupted Dorow and was repeatedly moved to an adjacent courtroom. One day, he removed his orange jail shirt while in the courtroom.
“It was a very emotional situation,” he said. “I should carry myself with better respect,” he said, adding his mother didn’t raise him to act like he did last week. He stood and apologized to the court, the prosecutors, the clerks and bailiffs, even news reporters, and anyone else in the gallery last week. (He did not specifically mention victims, several of whom attended the trial).
Dorow thanked Brooks for finally seeming to recognize the need for and value of decorum in the courtroom.
WHAT HAPPENED:USA TODAY Network’s coverage of the 2021 Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy
‘It was pure chaos’
Testimony began with Brooks’ cross-examination of Waukesha Police Det. Thomas Casey, the first officer who tried stopping Brooks from entering the parade route. Brooks seemed to try to cast doubt about Casey’s identification of Brooks as the driver or that the honking Casey described as evidence of the driver trying to alert people to danger.
Though Dorow has complimented Brooks’ improving behavior and questioning of witnesses, he returned to well-covered — and rejected — claims about jurisdiction, not recognizing himself by his own name, and whether “the plaintiff,” the state of Wisconsin was in the courtroom.
He even questioned a pronoun. “Objection,” Brooks said. “I don’t consent to being called he.”
Another officer, Bryce Butryn, testified he was nearly run down as he also attempted to stop Brooks. After Brooks went by, Butryn said, he ran after the red Ford Escape and saw it striking people.
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“There were so many things flying, it was unclear who or what was being struck,” Butryn said with some emotion. As he ran farther down the route, though, he saw, “multiple casualties on both sides of the road, with various degrees of injuries. It was pure chaos.”
Throughout much of Butryn’s eyewitness testimony, Brooks made objections, citing improper grounds of hearsay and relevance. Dorow overruled them all.
Brooks also seemed to believe he got some strategic advantage by demanding “grounds” the moment Deputy District Attorney Lesli Boese began to object.
Witnesses recount macabre scene
The jury heard from the first Waukesha Fire Department commander on the scene, who described how quickly the alarm level escalated, ultimately involving 23 units from 15 municipalities. Victims were taken to five area hospitals.
Nicole White testified she joined a friend to walk with the ReMax entry in the parade, a van with a hot air balloon basket and its gas burner, hanging from the back, shooting bursts of flame. White said she’d never walked in a parade before.
White said she had no sense of anything out of the ordinary before she was struck in the back, fell to the ground, and was run over by a red SUV. She said she expected someone would stop the vehicle, but she saw it driving away from the ground, nearly hitting the left side of the ReMax van.
Next, she said, someone helped her off the street to a chair at the curb because she couldn’t walk. She was then taken inside an office with other victims before a police officer took her to Waukesha Memorial Hospital.
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At the prosecutor’s request, she grimly watched a video that showed her being struck for the first time. White suffered two torn ligaments in her right knee, two compressed vertebrae, and a fractured tailbone.
The director of the Waukesha South High School Black Shirt Band, Sarah Wehmeier-Aparicio, testified to identify the band members who were struck. The jury could hear, but not see, a 30-second video clip of the band playing normally. The music started to drop away as screams increased before all the music stopped and only the screaming and someone yelling “Oh my God,” can be heard.
Prosecutors will resume presenting their case Tuesday.
Contributing: Jim Riccioli, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel