Darrell Brooks was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of extended supervision on Wednesday for driving his SUV into a crowd of Christmas parade attendees in Waukesha, Wisconsin, last November, killing six people and wounding dozens more.
Brooks, 40, was found guilty by a jury last month on all 76 counts stemming from the 2021 Christmas parade attack, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide with the use of a dangerous weapon.
On Wednesday, following two days of impassioned statements from victims and family members, Judge Jennifer Dorow imposed the statutorily mandated sentence, ordering Brooks to serve a life sentence without the possibility of extended supervision for each of the six counts of first-degree intentional homicide with the use of a dangerous weapon. The sentences will run consecutively, the judge said.
In addition to six consecutive life sentences for first-degree intentional homicide, Dorow also imposed sentences Wednesday for Brooks totaling hundreds of years of additional confinement for the remaining 70 counts he was found guilty on last month.
She sentenced Brooks to 17.5 years for each of the 61 counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety with the use of a dangerous weapon.
“You have absolutely no remorse for anything that you do. You have no empathy for anyone,” Dorow told Brooks. “Frankly, Mr. Brooks, no one is safe from you,” she continued.
Brooks spoke for more than two hours Wednesday afternoon, telling the court that he too struggles to understand why this tragic incident happened.
“That’s a question I struggle with myself,” Brooks said. “The why, the how. How could life ever get this far away from what it should be? Regardless of what a lot of people may think about me, about who I am, about my family, about my beliefs, I know who I am. God knows who I am. And I don’t have any words of anger,” he continued.
During his remarks, Brooks, who represented himself, only once apologized to the victims and the community of Waukesha, saying that no one can see the remorse he feels.
“I want you to know not only am I sorry for what happened, I’m sorry that you could not see what’s truly in my heart. That you cannot see the remorse that I have,” Brooks told the court. “That you cannot count all the tears that I have dropped in this year.”
Dorow also spoke at length on Brooks’ mental health, a topic his family members spoke about during the hearing.
Mental health issues did not cause him to drive into a large crowd of people and didn’t play a role in the attack, the judge said, citing passages and opinions from four mental health evaluations of Brooks from doctors. She said he understood the difference between right and wrong. She also said Brooks had no remorse nor empathy for anyone.
“Do the mentally ill sometimes commit atrocious crimes? They do. This is not one of those situations,” Dorow said. “There are many times, many times, good people do bad things. But there are times when evil people do bad things.
“There is no medication or treatment for a heart that is bent on evil.”
Prosecution had asked for harshest penalties
Prosecutors asked the judge Tuesday to sentence Brooks to the maximum sentence for all convictions stemming from the attack.
“He deserves the absolute maximum sentence on all counts, consecutive,” Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper told the judge.
“You saw the videos. This wasn’t him plowing into one large group of fifty people at one time and hitting them. It was linear. He hit one, kept going. Hit two, kept going. Hit three, kept going. All the way down the street. That’s consecutive sentences, your honor. That’s intentional, willful, volitional conduct that warrants consecutive sentences stacked one on top of the other just as he stacked victims up as he drove down the road in complete disregard for any other person whatsoever,” Opper continued.
In addition to the 762.5 years in prison for reckless endangerment, Dorow added sentences of three years for each of the two bail jumping convictions and nine months for domestic battery.
Dorow said the number of total years she sentenced Brooks to serve was needed to keep him away from the community for the rest of his life and was also symbolic.
“To order anything other than what I have done, sir, would be unduly depreciate the seriousness of these offenses. It is needed although largely symbolic given the number of years that I have imposed here today, because frankly you deserve it,” Dorow said.
The judge said she will leave decisions about mental health treatment up to the Department of Corrections.
Brooks has previously said in court he intends to appeal his conviction.
Victims’ families talk about their losses
Victims and their loved ones were given the opportunity to speak Tuesday about what they have lost and endured.
Among the more than 40 people delivering statements to the court were relatives of Virginia Sorenson, part of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies troupe that lost three of its members in the attack, WTMJ reported.
“I will continue to struggle with the loss,” said Sorenson’s husband, David. “I am lucky to have family care for me and wrap me in love so that I can start to glue together the shattered life I now have.”
While some victims addressing the court said thaey were willing to forgive the killer, Sorenson told the judge, “I ask you to send this evil animal to life in prison with no chance for parole for the callous murder of my wife,” WTMJ reported.
Alisha Kulich, the daughter of 52-year-old Jane Kulich, who was killed attending the parade, lamented that her mother will miss so many milestones in her and her siblings’ – and Jane Kulich’s grandchildren’s – lives, the station reported.
“She won’t get to see me say my vows or get married to the love of my life,” Alisha Kulich said. “And she won’t ever get to see my future kids, and they won’t know what it’s like to have a grandma who spoils them.”
‘How can you hit one and keep going?’
In addition to Sorenson and Kulich, Jackson Sparks, 8, Tamara Durand, 52, Lee Owen, 71, and Wilhelm Hospel, 81, were killed. Sparks was walking with his baseball team during the parade. Durand and Owen were Dancing Grannies, along with Sorenson, and Hospel was the husband of a Dancing Granny who survived the attack.
Prosecutors provided evidence showing Brooks intentionally drove through the crowd. In a criminal complaint, an officer who stepped in front of Brooks’ vehicle, ordering him to stop, said Brooks looked “directly at him, and it appeared he had no emotion on his face.”
The SUV passed the officer and accelerated, stopped at an intersection, then accelerated again – tires squealing – and began zig-zagging as “bodies and objects” flew, the complaint said, adding that another witness said Brooks was trying to avoid vehicles, rather than people, and made no attempt to slow down.
In a tearful closing argument, Brooks posited what would be the reaction if the car malfunctioned and was unable to stop and the driver panicked. He claimed there was a recall on the vehicle he was driving, but Dorow struck the remarks from the record.
“He reached speeds of approximately 30 miles per hour. That’s intentional,” the district attorney said. “He plowed through 68 different people. Sixty-eight. How can you hit one and keep going? How can you hit two and keep going?”
A jury also handed down guilty verdicts on 61 counts of recklessly endangering safety with the use of a dangerous weapon, six counts of fatal hit and run, two counts of felony bail jumping and one count of misdemeanor domestic battery. It was a clean sweep for the prosecution.
In June, Brooks entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, but his public defenders withdrew it in September. They then withdrew themselves from representing Brooks, and Dorow permitted Brooks to represent himself.
He was belligerent and disruptive at trial, often speaking over Dorow to make outlandish arguments. Dorow at times put Brooks in a separate room, where he could take part via a monitor and was muted unless it was his turn to speak. Brooks was twice sent to that room Wednesday after talking over the judge as she demanded he stop.
Brooks’ mother, Dawn Woods, expressed concern that her son was not capable of defending himself and asked the judge not to allow it, WTMJ reported.
“He is not stable mentally enough to fully understand the big mistake he is making by wanting to represent himself,” she said, according to WTMJ. “That alone should be enough to see he’s not capable of being his own attorney.”
Brooks had been charged in a domestic abuse case and was released from jail on $1,000 bail less than two weeks before the parade. He was accused of running over a woman who claimed to be the mother of his child, according to court documents. Prosecutors later acknowledged the bail set was “inappropriately low.”