Abraham Lincoln certainly hit the nail on the head when he said, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” This clever statement absolutely rings true in the circus that’s playing out in a Waukesha, Wis. courtroom, where defendant Darrell Brooks ( MathBoi Fly is his rapper name) is defending himself in a murder trial that includes six counts of first-degree intentional homicide.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this case, Darrell Brooks is on trial for driving a red Ford Escape SUV through the November 2021 Waukesha Christmas parade, striking and killing six parade marchers, and additionally injuring over 5 dozen parade participants and spectators.
Many of the survivors were seriously injured and required multiple surgeries. Some are scarred for life, physically and/or mentally. One young boy received a compound fracture of the leg and was bleeding severely when a quick thinking police officer applied a tourniquet. His actions saved the boy’s life.
Numerous videos captured the speeding vehicle driven by Brooks as it approached victims from behind while swerving from one side of the street to the other, mowing people down and sending some victims cartwheeling through the air. One landed on the hood of Brooks’ SUV horrifying spectators as they saw the vehicle pass. The body eventually fell to the pavement.
One surviving victim testified that he was thrown 30-feet. Witnesses observed parade marchers struck and run over with the vehicle moving up and down in a motion as if it were passing over numerous speed bumps. However, those obstacles were the bodies of humans that Brooks hit and knocked to the roadway and then continuing to move through the slow-moving parade route at speeds averaging 32mph in a street filled with slow-moving marching bands, floats, and those who walked with various organizations.
Both sides of the street were heavily occupied by adults, and children who were waiting to gather candy tossed to them by parade participants. Several of those young children were struck and injured. Witnesses described seeing the vehicle striking people who fell and then disappeared beneath the front bumper and were then next seen at the rear of the SUV, almost as if the Ford Escape had swallowed victims and then expelled them from behind as it continued on its path forward. Brooks did not stop his vehicle, not once, to check on anyone he’d hit. Instead, he often accelerated after injuring or killing someone.
Those killed during this shocking incident include:
- Eight-year-old Jackson Sparks who underwent brain surgery after he was hit but died a couple of days later from his injuries. Jackson’s 12-year-old brother, Tucker, survived but received and was treated for a fractured skull.
- Tamara Durand, 52, a teacher and a chaplain at Waukesha Memorial Hospital, was marching with the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies when she was struck and killed.
- Virginia “Ginny” Sorenson, 79, also a member of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies, was struck and killed. Fellow Dancing Granny Sharon Millard told the New York Post, “No one ever saw him coming. He was going so fast. All I knew is I saw Ginny fly up in the air and land in front of me. I saw her curled up and blood was coming out of her like a river. I was standing in blood.”
- Wilhelm Hospel, 81, was struck and killed while walking beside the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies as support for his wife Lola.
- Leanna “Lee” Owen, 71, a Milwaukee Dancing Granny, was struck and killed while marching in the parade with her group.
- Jane Kulich, 52, marched with a Citizens Bank float when she was struck and killed.
Darrell Brooks is clearly seen in many videos and still photos as the driver of the red SUV, a vehicle owned by his mother Dawn Woods. His ID and bank cards were located in the later abandoned and severely damaged SUV.
In addition to visual identification by multiple witnesses, including police officers at the scene as it unfolded, Brooks’ DNA was recovered from the steering wheel and gear shift, as well as clothing found within the SUV used in the attack.
A self-made rap video posted to Brooks’ Facebook page features Brooks performing in front of the same red SUV. The license plate can be seen in the video. It’s the same license plate that was on the vehicle on the day of the parade.
Erika Patterson, Brooks’ former girlfriend and the mother of one of his children, testified that she was in the very same SUV, with Brooks, prior to the parade. She stated they’d argued, he struck her with his hand(s), and then drove away angry. Minutes later an angry Brooks entered the parade route and began the carnage.
A day or so earlier, Brooks, in a fit of anger, hit his former girlfriend with the same red SUV and then ran over her legs. He was furious because Patterson wouldn’t give him money.
“He (Brooks) impregnated Erika Patterson when she was a minor in Nevada. In for doing so, he was convicted of statutory sexual seduction, plead guilty in March of 2007 to that felony offense and is a sex offender, on the registry,” Assistant District Attorney Zach Wittchow told Judge Jennifer Dororw.
The amount of rock-solid evidence in this case is overwhelming. In fact, in all my years I’ve not seen better police work and presentation by prosecutors. They’ve left no stone unturned and have shown in detail, either by video, still photo, and/or witnesses statement, nearly every movement Brooks made the day of the parade. They have the times he did things, what he did, what he said to people, where he walked and ran as he fled the driveway where he abandoned the SUV, his arrest where he identified himself as Darrell Brooks (he now claims he does not “identify by that name), and much, much more.
There is video and still photo evidence clearly and without any doubt showing Brooks driving the vehicle through the parade, striking people and the aftermath, fleeing the scene in the vehicle, with Erika Patterson, leaving the driveway where he abandoned the SUV, eyewitnesses who saw and spoke with him, surveillance video of him running through streets and parking lots as he fled, pieces of clothing stuck on and found in the SUV that were worn by people he’d struck, and much more, including articles of his clothing he discarded as he ran away. Again, the sheer amount of evidence is astounding.
Brooks is originally charged with:
- Six counts of first-degree intentional homicide – use of a dangerous weapon
- Six counts of hit-and-run involving death
- 61 counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety – use of a dangerous weapon
- Two counts of bail jumping
- Two counts of battery – domestic abuse
Early on in the court process two attorneys, Jeremy Perri and Anna Kees, were appointed to defend Brooks who first entered a special plea of not guilty by insanity. But in a September pre-trial hearing he withdrew it and the plea change was accepted by the court.
In September 2022, less than two weeks before the scheduled start of the trial, the two attorneys filed a motion to withdraw, telling the court Brooks desired to represent himself. He’d fired his lawyers.
To establish Brooks’ competence to represent himself, Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow reviewed the evaluations four psychologists conducted of Brooks and agreed with their findings that while he has a personality disorder and is disruptive, he is intelligent and articulate enough to defend himself. Then, in two hearings on the matter, Judge Dorow questioned Brooks as to whether he understood the charges he faced and the penalties associated with them. In addition, District Attorney Sue Opper noted that her office reviewed ten previous Wisconsin cases against Brooks and they “could not find, on any occasion, where competency was ever raised.” At the conclusion of the hearings Judge Dorow ruled that Brooks was competent to represent himself.
When the trial began earlier this month (October, 2022) it instantly became obvious that Brooks had made a poor decision. His disruptive, disrespectful, unruly, obnoxious, threatening, argumentative, confusing, and often childish behavior in the courtroom is unprecedented and has done him no favors. At times he’s coherent, though, and while not schooled in the law, he sometimes made a few valid objections and arguments. Most of the time, though, his rants are delivered while yelling at or arguing with the judge when he didn’t agree with a ruling.
He questions the judge’s authority multiple times each day. When he doesn’t get his way about an issue he begins bizarre loud diatribes complete with arm waving and angry facial gestures that include tense lip pursing, eye rolls, sneers, and frowns. He sighs loudly and mutters under his breath but loud enough for jurors to hear his out-of-line commentary and unjust criticisms of the court, witnesses, prosectors, bailiffs, jail staff, the overall legal system, and more.
In one instance he pounded the table and then engaged in a stare-down directed at Judge Dorow, who called Brooks on his bizarre antics and stated for the record that his actions “scared her.” She then called a recess to defuse the situation.
Judge Dorow has shown and extraordinary amount of patience when dealing with Darrell Brooks, a man with a long history of violent behavior, a history that has repeated itself nearly every single hour of this trial.
The prosecution rested their case last week and then Brooks began calling witnesses for the defense. Interestingly, each of those witness’s testimony added more evidence that Brooks committed the crimes for which he stands trial. Today, Brooks planned to wrap up his defense this morning by calling his mother to the stand, a move he hoped will impeach the testimony of the lead detective in the case. However, his mother did not show up to testify which likely added fuel to his fiery outbursts. He then refused to call witnesses and became extremely confrontational, and even more angry and disruptive than usual. He was removed from the main courtroom and appeared by video from alternate courtroom to allow the judge to mute him so his outbursts did not interrupt the proceedings. Today he was at his worst.
He refused to answer repeated questions regarding if he planned to testify in his own behalf, or not. Instead of responding to those questions he constantly interrupted and disrupted the proceeding.
As a result of Brooks refusing to respond to any and all questions, the judge ruled that, due to his lack of cooperation, the evidentiary portion of the trial be closed. With that she sent the jury home for the day while the court, prosecutors, and Brooks, if he was willing, began the process of reviewing and editing jury instructions. Of course, in true Darrell Brooks fashion, he ignored the process by stacking the banker boxes containing his files in front of his monitor to prevent being seen and to prevent him from seeing the judge and courtroom. However, the judge ordered bailiffs to remove the boxes so she could see the defendant.
A bailiff handed jury instructions and verdict forms to Brooks to allow him to review them in order to offer objections and edits, but he immediately tossed those into a trashcan beneath his table. Meanwhile, he’d been angrily screaming and yelling so loudly that he can be heard through the walls separating the two courtrooms.
Brooks tried a new tactic this afternoon, claiming he couldn’t hear because the audio wasn’t working in the courtroom where he was located to prevent his constant disruptions and abuse. So Judge Dorow had both the bailiff in that room and the court’s IT person sworn in and testify. The bailiff stated the audio was loud and clear. The IT person also stated the audio (and video) was working properly. He went a step further by measuring the decibel level of the audio output, which was much louder than audio projected to other rooms, including the area designated for the media covering the trial.
Sovereign Citizen Defense
Since the beginning of the trial, and throughout, Darrell Brooks has attempted to use a sovereign citizen defense. When someone refers to him by name (Darrell Brooks) Brooks objects for the record that he does not consent to being called “that name” (Darrell Brooks). Judge Dorow has responded more than once that it goes towards his sovereign beliefs, which are not relevant to this trial.
Brooks demands that the court prove “subject matter of jurisdiction,” a typical sovereign demand. Judge Dorow has denied this objection NUMEROUS times. But he’s like a broken record. “I have not been provided proof of subject matter jurisdiction,” Brooks says over and over again. Judge Dorow explained to Brooks that “sovereign citizen” arguments have been debunked throughout history in both state and federal courts.
Sovereign citizens are categorized by the FBI as “anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or “sovereign” from the United States. As a result, they believe they don’t have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, or law enforcement.”
People who identify as sovereign citizens are often argumentative, confrontational, and belligerent toward law enforcement and the courts. They argue that neither the police or courts have authority over them. For example, when stopped for a traffic infraction they regularly claim they are not driving but are instead “traveling.” Therefore, it is their inaccurate conclusion that traffic/driving laws do not apply to them, including the need for a driver’s license and vehicle registration. When police then proceed with the traffic stop, ignoring the sovereign arguments, the sovereign drivers become irate and often violent. It’s not uncommon to have to forcibly remove from their vehicles. Many times they attempt to flee the scene. Officers are frequently attacked.
Sovereign citizen encounters can be extremely violent and dangerous for law enforcement. For example, sovereign citizens Jerry Kane and his son Joseph were stopped by police for a traffic infraction. As the two officers approached the vehicle from the rear, the son opened fire with a rifle, killing both officers. The pair were later killed by police during a shootout where the pair of murderers wounded a local sheriff and his chief deputy.
So yes, the defendant in this trial, Darrell Brooks, has exhibited behavior that’s bizarre, unique, outlandish, belligerent, disrespectful to the court and to witnesses and victims, narcissistic, psychopathic, controlling, and, well, you name an adjective and it probably fits Brooks and the outrageous spectacle he created in the courtroom. He even removed his shirt during the trial, covered his head with his jacket, slammed his fists on the table, and most days read a Bible during the trial and questioning, and later stated to the judge that, “Some people live by the Bible.” That’s not a direct quote, but close.
Judge Dorow has shown an abundance of restraint during the trial, more than anyone’s fair share. Brooks has been THE nightmare defendant, but the judge likely endured Brooks’ antics to prevent a mistrial and/or arguments for appeal. She deserves a long vacation when this trial is over, for sure.
Today she sent Brooks to the alternate courtroom which allowed her a generous and ample use of the mute button, a luxury that enabled the court to get through important matters before presenting instructions to the jury tomorrow morning.
Each day of the trial is available as a recording or live on YouTube. It’s also available on Facebook. Sure, it’s frustrating to sit through Brooks’ shenanigans, but the case presented by the prosecution is worth the effort. It’s also a good study of a criminal’s way of thinking, mannerisms, interactions with others, personality, etc. It’s great for fictional character building and layering. The same is true for a first-hand study of the witnesses, attorneys, judges, and law enforcement involved in this case.
Court begins tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. EST (8:30 in Wisconsin).