WAUKESHA – Almost a year after driving an SUV through the city’s annual Christmas parade, killing six people and injuring dozens of others, Darrell Brooks Jr. was convicted on all counts Wednesday morning.
After being sequestered Tuesday night after about 90 minutes of deliberations, the jury announced it had verdicts early Wednesday. Judge Jennifer Dorow began reading them shortly before 11 a.m., beginning with the first-degree intentional homicide counts. It was announced about 10:45 a.m. It began with guilty verdicts on the six counts of first-degree intentional homicide, which carry mandatory life in prison terms, and followed with the reading of the verdicts for all 76 counts.
Brooks, 40, of Milwaukee was charged with six counts of first-degree intentional homicide, 61 counts of recklessly endangering safety, six counts of hit-and-run causing death and two counts of bail jumping, all felonies, and one count of misdemeanor battery.
Here’s what has happened so far on Day 18 of the trial:
Verdict evokes memories of ‘terror’ at Vinyl Vault Records in downtown Waukesha
Jamie Priest, store supervisor of Vinyl Vault Records in downtown Waukesha, was handing out candy and watching the parade outside of the store when the SUV ran through the crowd.
“The owner (of the store) held the door open and people just flooded in here, panicking,” he said.
People hiding inside the store crouched under the record racks and hid, unsure of what was to come next. “The terror on their faces – it was bad,” Priest said.
He’s watched bits of the trial every day, and although he was happy with the jury’s verdict, his sadness remains for the victims and their families. “It’s hard to come back down here and then be normal again,” Priest said.
The trial happening in Waukesha could bring closure, he said. “I’m not sure how that stuff normally goes, and I think since it happened here, it was good that it ended here,” Priest said.
— Quinn Clark
Downtown business owner says ‘all my customers have a story’ of parade tragedy’s impact
Joan Skimmons has owned River’s End Gallery in Downtown Waukesha for 18 years. She wasn’t in her store the day of the parade, but in the following days, she had to clean victims’ blood off of the front of her building.
“All my customers have a story,” Skimmons said. “One of them had multiple grandchildren hit, and on and on. I mean, it has impacted us severely.”
River’s End has donated profits to victims of the parade and handed out blue lights, symbolizing strength in the community, for Waukesha residents to light up their front porches.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that some people that were hit have lasting injuries to this day, she said. “Their lives have been impacted forever,” she said.
She’s watched the trial on live streams every day, and said she isn’t surprised by the verdict
“My heart went out to the poor people that were put on the stand as witnesses and had to relive it, and the ones that had their children hurt,” Skimmons said.
As far as the jury’s decision, “it was the correct verdict,” she said. “The verdict was very correct.”
— Quinn Clark
Other Waukesha business owners share thoughts about Brooks verdict
Lynn Gaffey, 20-year owner of Almont Gallery in downtown Waukesha, was standing inside her store as the 2021 Christmas parade went by. That’s when she witnessed the Dancing Grannies hit by the red SUV.“It was a horrifying thing to see,” Gaffey said.She opened her doors for parade attendees to come inside for safety.“Oh, every store, we were all filled with customers,” Gaffey said.
‘No way that he could get anything but guilty’
She watched Judge Dorow read the verdict on a livestream, and the guilty charges did not come as a surprise.“I felt there would be no way that he could get anything but guilty,” she said.The trial’s location has brought the spotlight back to Waukesha since the tragedy, and although it was “crummy to have to go through again,” she said, the trial couldn’t have been held anywhere else.“I wanted people that experienced it to be the ones that are judging it,” she said. “I think it had to be here.”
One employee of a local business on the parade route preferred to remain anonymous. “I’m not one for the spotlight, but he needs to rot in prison,” they said.
‘An eerie, eerie day’
Joette Barta opened Nice Ash Cigar Bar in Downtown Waukesha 16 years ago. Like every other year, she watched the 2021 Christmas Parade go by her business. When she witnessed Brooks’ SUV plow through the parade, her first instinct was to run outside and help.“Actually, one of our customers gave mouth to mouth to the granny that was hurt right here,” Barta said, gesturing outside.The day after the tragedy, the streets were eerily quiet, she said, with peoples’ gloves, hats and chairs left behind. “It was an eerie, eerie day,” she said.There’s no question in her mind that Brooks is guilty, she said.“We saw him. We were here that day, inside here, saw him speed by,” Barta said.
While she’s glad the trial was held in Waukesha, she feels for the community. “I feel for those families, and he should have been remorseful at some point and apologized to those families whose lives he ruined,” Barta said.While she agrees with the jury’s verdict, Brooks’ behavior prolonging the trial was frustrating, she said.“I’m just irritated at the amount of time, energy, and money that was wasted,” she said. “I know you got to give him a fair trial, but allowing him to represent himself caused it to be how much longer than it normally would have been.”Barta said she will have her business open for this year’s Christmas parade to show support and solidarity with the community.“I’m interested to see how many people are going to attend the parade this year,” she said. “I’ve heard quite a few say, ‘I’m never going again.’”
− Quinn Clark
Trial witnesses react to guilty verdict in Brooks trial
Laurie Hogeland knew several of the families who lost loved ones in the attack. She was outside the courthouse after the verdicts were read. “Their lives mattered. Justice was served,” she said.
Troy Birk was in the courthouse as the guilty verdicts were returned against Brooks. He said he felt compelled to be in the room as a show of support for the community. He recalled there being a lot of emotion, especially as Judge Jennifer Dorow read the charges, which included the names of each victim. “I think it was the right decision. The judge did a great job,” he said. “I think we all just need to heal and move forward.”
− LaRisa Lynch
Prosecution and victim families to speak at post-trial press conference
Waukesha Police Captain Dan Baumann said that District Attorney Sue Opper, Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson, victim Ginny Sorenson’s husband David Sorenson and Waukesha South band member Tyler Pudleiner will all speak at a post-trial press conference at 1 p.m. Also present will be Deputy District Attorney Lesli Boese, Assistant District Attorney Zach Wittchow, Waukesha Police Department detectives Tom Casey and Ryan Roeglin, and Victim/witness support leaders Jen Dunn (with support dog Pepper) and Keri Peterson.
Among the five speakers during the 1 p.m. press conference, District Attorney Sue Opper drew the most attention. At least a dozen questions were addressed strictly to her following the statements of the others.
“First and foremost, our concerns stay with the victims,” Opper said, noting how many lives were impacted on that day.
She expressed satisfaction in the verdict and the pending sentencing. The first-degree intentional homicide verdicts alone carry the potential of six consecutive life sentences. The remaining charges — including the 61 counts of recklessly endangering safety with a dangerous weapon — could also total 859 years of additional confinement.
Opper also noted that there is “much healing ahead,” adding in response to questions: “It’s obviously satisfying that Mr. Brooks … has been held accountable.”
Even knowing what she did heading into the trial, with Brooks’ self-representation itself becoming an issue, one part of his defense that caught her by surprise was “his absolute disrespect” for the courtroom proceedings and Judge Jennifer Dorow.
She called Brooks’ relentless approach in that regard as “taxing.” But not as troubling as what witnesses experienced during the parade.
“You cannot imagine unless you caught some of those videos how horrific it was to stand there,” Opper said.
Waukesha Police Chief Daniel Thompson, also speaking at the press conference, noted that the timeline which began at the parade incident included “two days we’ll never forget: Nov. 21 and Oct. 26.”
“Why Oct. 26? Justice was served today,” Thompson said, thanking the jury, judge and prosecutors for their efforts.
David Sorenson, whose wife Ginny was among those killed after she was struck by the red SUV driven by Brooks, spoke very briefly.
“Justice was served for my wife and our three children,” Sorenson said, accompanied by his two sons, Marshall and Sean.
Marshall Sorenson added: “We have been praying for this day for a long time.”
Pudleiner, a member of the Waukesha South Marching Band which was part of the 2021 parade, said at the press conference that he, too, was grateful for the efforts of the prosecutorial team, which in addition to Opper included Boese, Wittchow and Casey. “They are the ones who got us to this point,” Pudleiner said.
As for the verdict, it showed the community and justice system “is stronger than (Brooks) and it has been proven today.”
Amber Kohnke, the mother of one of the juvenile victims who was injured, likewise thanked prosecutors, the judge and law enforcement officials, “especially those who have been involved with my family” during the case.
“I’m very happy with the verdict and that justice has been served today,” Kohnke said during the courthouse press conference.
People in the gallery react to the Darrell Brooks verdict
The courtroom was at capacity, and a group of five people (not including media) was standing outside the courtroom’s doors.Many were wearing blue Waukesha Strong sweatshirts.“Burn in hell, you piece of sh–,” someone in the gallery shouted and was immediately removed.Some in the gallery and outside the courtroom doors wiped away tears, while some put their heads down in silent prayer.Many looked down with pain in their eyes as Dorow read the names of those killed in the tragedy. A gasp was heard throughout when 8-year-old victim Jackson Sparks’ name was read.
Brooks asked that the jurors be polled to confirm the verdicts read were their “true verdicts.” All responded “yes.”
The gallery snickered at Brooks’ objection to the polling of the jurors.
Brooks, speaking quietly, indicated he was not satisfied with the polling of the jurors.
Waukesha residents embraced each other upon leaving the courtroom.
A few people in their cars, and one truck, honked their horns in support of the jury’s verdict as they drove by the courthouse. Some people rolled down their windows and cheered.
−James Riccioli and Quinn Clark
More:Jackson Sparks, an 8-year-old boy, becomes the first child to die from injuries in the Waukesha Christmas Parade
Brooks found guilty in Waukesha Christmas Parade attacks
A jury has convicted Darrell Brooks Jr. of killing six people and injuring dozens of others by driving through the 2021 Christmas parade.
Brooks looked down, hiding his face between his hands resting on his forehead as the verdict was being read.
Unlike his reaction in earlier hearings when he faced setbacks in court, Brooks remained quiet and non demonstrative following the verdicts.
Dorow entered a judgment of conviction. The court will reconvene on Monday to schedule sentencing.
−James Riccioli and Quinn Clark
More:Darrell Brooks found guilty in Waukesha Christmas Parade attacks
Brooks asks for retrial over prank Reddit post from someone claiming to be a juror
Before jurors ended deliberations Wednesday, Darrell Brooks Jr. asked the court for a mistrial after the discovery of a Reddit post, later determined to be a “prank,” from someone initially claiming to be a juror in his homicide and reckless endangerment trial.
Dorow said she ordered an investigation by the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office on Reddit post because she took the issue “very seriously.”
Assistant District Attorney Zach Wittchow stressed that the updated post was acknowledged by the original poster as a prank, noting that in Reddit only the original author can change the post. “So this has been put to bed,” Wittchow said.
The post, which since has been taken down, essentially was critical of the prosecution, making racial assertions about the decision to try him.
Regardless of the Reddit post’s content, Dorow acknowledged she was made aware of its existence prior to 10 a.m. Tuesday and decided to initiate an investigation without informing either party of the issue. “I, and I alone, made the decision to withhold the information,” she said.
Dorow ruled out any action for now and noted that jurors have been made fully aware daily of restrictions on any involvement with social media content.
Dorow said she’ll wait for the investigation to advance before making any rulings, including on any of Brooks’ suggestions for jury discharge or a mistrial.
“It was speculative at that point, and it remains speculative,” Dorow said, noting that no facts currently support a mistrial or discharging the jury. “I do not see grounds (for those actions).”
Jurors have reached a verdict; court to reconvene at 10:45 a.m.
Just after 9:45 a.m., the court sent out a notification that jurors had reached a verdict. Dorow previously said she would allow an hour of lag time between the end of deliberations and the reading of the verdict to allow anyone who wanted to witness it to come to the courthouse.
Jurors spent a couple of hours deliberating Tuesday night.
This story will be updated throughout the day.
Contact Jim Riccioli at (262) 446-6635 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @jariccioli.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Darrell Brooks guilty: Live trial updates in Waukesha, Wisconsin