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Darrell Brooks sentenced to life in prison in deadly Christmas parade attack

(WAUKESHA, Wisc.) — Darrell Brooks was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without the possibility for parole for driving his SUV into a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, last year, killing six people and injuring dozens more, after being removed twice from the courtroom for disrupting the proceedings.

“This community can only be safe if you are behind bars for the rest of your life,” Judge Jennifer Dorow said in announcing her sentencing for the six counts of first-degree intentional homicide, which she said will be served consecutively.

Wednesday’s sentencing comes after dozens of victims of the attack confronted Brooks in angry, emotional statements on Tuesday.

Brooks and his family had raised his mental health issues in his defense. Though Dorow said his actions behind the wheel that day — including choosing to drive toward the parade despite multiple opportunities to avoid it — did not support a claim of mental illness, and that he acted “recklessly, carelessly and maliciously.”

“It is very clear to this court that he understands the difference between right and wrong, and he simply chooses to ignore his conscious,” Dorow said. “He is fueled by anger and rage.”

“Some people unfortunately choose a path of evil. And I think, Mr. Brooks, you are one of those such persons,” she continued.

The judge teared up talking about the footage from the scene.

“Those are images that frankly kept me up at night,” she said.

Dorow spoke about the impact on the victims, including their statements on Tuesday, before announcing her sentencing.

“This trial is unlike anything that I’ve ever been a part of,” she said. “The sheer magnitude of the crime, the number of people impacted, how they were impacted. The vicious, senseless nature of it.”

She highlighted his lack of remorse during a two-hour statement made in court ahead of his sentencing and criticized a “feeble attempt to blame mental health.”

“I waited for a true apology. I didn’t get it,” she said. “Not for my benefit, but for the victims.”

Brooks was removed from the courtroom during the judge’s sentencing remarks for what Dorow described as a “tirade” and placed in another courtroom with audio access to the proceedings. He was brought back for the sentencing, though the judge removed him again for failing to be orderly.

Prior to Dorow’s sentencing, several people spoke on Brooks’ behalf in Waukesha County court on Wednesday over Zoom, starting with his mother, Dawn Brooks.

“Jail is not the only answer,” she told the court. “Help, treatment, hospitalization and medication — it plays a big role in preventing this, where we are today, if it would have been offered sooner.”

She also read the Maya Angelou poem “Caged Bird.”

“Everyone who suffers from mental illness is caged. All they want is to be free of their illness and become mentally well,” she said, adding that she believes society has an obligation to help others through treatment and medication.

Brooks’ grandmother, Mary Edwards, told the court that he has suffered from bipolar disorder since the age of 12.

“It was that disorder that caused him to drive through that crowd,” she said. “It is my prayer that he will be treated for this illness.”

Court-ordered examinations diagnosed Brooks with antisocial personality disorder, according to Dorow.

Brooks himself addressed the court for over two hours in a wide-ranging, rambling statement that touched on his faith, upbringing, children and mental illness. At one point, he apologized for the incident, which he said was not “planned” or “plotted.”

“I want everyone to know, also the community of Waukesha, 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. That you cannot see the remorse that I have,” he said.

He also apologized to the judge for his antics and outbursts throughout the trial.

“Nothing about it was personal,” he said. “I think it was just the pot boiling over.”

At one point he asked to turn to address the victims in the gallery, which the judge denied.

“I don’t think they’re ready for that yet,” Dorow said.

A jury found Brooks, 40, guilty last month on all 76 counts, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide, for barreling his SUV into a Christmas parade on Nov. 21, 2021.

Those killed were Tamara Durand, 52; Wilhelm Hospel, 81; Jane Kulich, 52; Leanna Owen, 71; Virginia Sorenson, 79; and Jackson Sparks, 8.

When Dorow asked him what he thinks the court should do in regard to sentencing, Brooks said he did not understand the “true nature and cause of the charges.”

“I also believe a decision was already made before we even got here,” he said.

When asked what he thinks of a potential sentence of life without the possibility of parole, Brooks said he would like to go somewhere “where I can be helped.”

Addressing the court on Tuesday during the first day of the sentencing, survivors detailed how Brooks robbed them of their sense of personal safety, trust and peace and affected them physically and mentally. Parents recalled frantically searching for their children, and the injuries they endured in the attack. Family members honored the memory of those who were killed. Many who addressed the court asked for the maximum sentence possible.

Several of those who spoke in court were children who recounted the horror and long-lasting impact of that day.

“I know that I lost a piece of myself that day, and I’m still trying to find it,” one young victim who was dancing in the parade when the attack occurred told the court on Tuesday.

Another dancer who was injured in the parade spoke of being scared of cars at the bus stop.

“It is getting closer and closer to Nov. 21 and I don’t think I’m ready for this day to come,” the 12-year-old victim told the court on Tuesday. “On this day each year, I and many others will think of how a peaceful event that has been a tradition in Waukesha for over 50 years, and brought smiles and laughter to everyone, turned into tragedy.”

The sentencing hearing was briefly paused Tuesday morning after an unknown person threatened a mass shooting at the Waukesha County Courthouse, authorities said. The threat is under investigation and security at the courthouse was increased, the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office said.

Brooks was also briefly removed from the courtroom on Tuesday for what Dorow described as his continued “defiant behavior,” which had included shouting at and interrupting the judge and prosecutors.

Brooks initially pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease but withdrew the plea in September. He dismissed his public defenders during the trial and went on to represent himself.

Prior to the start of the trial, Brooks’ mother had written to the judge in September asking that he not be allowed to represent himself in court because “he is not stable mentally enough,” Milwaukee ABC affiliate WISN reported at the time.

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