‘Bent on evil’: Darrell Brooks Jr. sentenced to multiple lifetimes in prison for Waukesha Parade tragedy

Victims applaud in courtroom as judge hands out consecutive life sentences for each person killed

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Darrell Brooks Jr. speaks to Waukesha County district attorney Susan Opper in a Waukesha County Circuit Court in Waukesha
Darrell Brooks Jr. speaks to Waukesha County district attorney Susan Opper in a Waukesha County Circuit Court in Waukesha, Wis., on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, Pool

After calling him a man motivated by evil, a judge sentenced Darrell Brooks Jr. to spend multiple lifetimes in prison for killing six people and injuring dozens of others when he plowed his SUV through the Waukesha Christmas Parade last year.

Waukesha Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow sentenced Brooks to consecutive sentences of life in prison for each of the six people killed. Families of victims in the courtroom applauded as the judge read out the names of each of the six people killed, saying the words “one life sentence” after each name.

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She sentenced Brooks to an additional 762 years in prison for the 61 charges of first-degree recklessly endangering safety. Again, she read the name of each of those 60 victims, giving Brooks 12.5 years in prison for every one, all of those prison sentences consecutive to the others.

The judge, who was occasionally tearful as she recounted the testimony and statements from victims and families, said she hopes the sentence provides “justice and closure for the victims and the community at large.”

In handing down her sentence at the end of a two-day hearing, she rejected explanations from Brooks’ family members who believe his actions were caused by mental illness.

“There are times when evil people do bad things — there is no medication or treatment for a heart that is bent on evil,” Dorow said. “Some people unfortunately choose a path of evil, and Mr. Brooks, I think you are one of those people.”

The decision comes less than a week before the Nov. 21 anniversary of the tragedy.

Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow listens as Darrell Brooks gives his closing remarks during his sentencing in a Waukesha County Circuit Court
Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow listens as Darrell Brooks gives his closing remarks during his sentencing in a Waukesha County Circuit Court in Waukesha, Wis., on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, Pool

Brooks, 40, was convicted by a jury last month of six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and about 70 additional charges. Dorow said testimony at the trial showed Brooks struck 69 people with his vehicle that day.

After hearing from dozens of victims Tuesday — many of whom remarked on Brooks’ lack of remorse — in comments before his sentencing, Brooks offered an apology.

“I want each and every victim in this incident, family members, those who lost loved ones, those who are still healing — I want you to know that no matter how you felt during this year, no matter how you felt yesterday, 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 is truly in my heart, that you could not see the remorse that I have,” he said.

But that apology was just a few sentences in a rambling, two-hour statement during which Brooks often portrayed himself as a victim. He called himself “the most hated man on the planet” and spoke about his childhood, his religious faith and his frustration with the prosecution team. He spoke tearfully about his family and children.

And if anyone hoped to get an answer for why Brooks drove his SUV through the parade route last year, none was on offer.

“What happened on Nov. 21 was not, not, not an attack. It was not planned, plotted,” he said. “When you constantly hear that perpetuated, constantly pushed, constantly pushed, constantly pushed, you wonder why. Why? This was not an attack. This was not an intentional act. No matter how many times you say it over and over, it was not.”

Darrell Brooks' grandmother Mary Edwards gives a victim impact statement during Brooks' sentencing
Darrell Brooks’ grandmother Mary Edwards gives a victim impact statement during Brooks’ sentencing in a Waukesha County Circuit Court in Waukesha, Wis., on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, Pool

An attempt at an explanation came from Brooks’ 80-year-old grandmother, Mary Edwards.

Speaking to Dorow through a Zoom link, Edwards blamed Brooks’ mental illness.

“Darrell has suffered from bipolar since the age of 12, and it was that disorder that caused him to drive through that crowd,” Edwards said.

Brooks’ mother, Dawn Woods, also spoke of Brooks’ mental illness. And Brooks himself, during his long statement, spoke of hoping he could get mental health treatment.

But Dorow rejected that argument. After Brooks spoke, she said Brooks had been examined by four psychiatric experts who all found he would not qualify for a “not guilty by reason of mental disease” defense.

“We may never know the true ‘why,’ but we were provided nothing here today other than a feeble effort to blame mental health,” Dorow said.

She said examiners found Brooks had an “antisocial personality disorder,” but that he was aware of what he was doing on Nov. 21, that he knew his conduct was wrong and that he attempted to evade authorities afterward.

Dorow noted that victims and family members who spoke at the sentencing hearing Tuesday highlighted the serious physical and mental trauma caused by Brooks’ actions. Many spoke of suffering PTSD from the event, of having trouble sleeping and of terror of being in crowded places or crossing streets and parking lots.

“Frankly, it’s challenging talking about the impact on the victims without getting emotional,” she said. “The sheer magnitude of the crime. The number of people impacted, how they were impacted. The vicious, senseless nature of it.”

As the judge recounted those statements and the earlier testimony during the trial, Brooks — as he often did during the trial — interrupted her several times. He was removed from the courtroom to a remote courtroom during her sentencing remarks. When she brought him back to the courtroom, he clashed with the judge again.

Darrell Brooks reacts as Michele Allworth gives a victim impact statement on Brooks' behalf during Brooks' sentencing in a Waukesha County Circuit Court
Darrell Brooks reacts as Michele Allworth gives a victim impact statement on Brooks’ behalf during Brooks’ sentencing in a Waukesha County Circuit Court in Waukesha, Wis., on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, Pool

“Mr. Brooks, you’re just simply trying to delay the inevitable,” Dorow told Brooks as he continued to argue and refuse to sit down.

“I don’t care about the inevitable,” he said.

He eventually heard his sentence from the remote courtroom. He showed little reaction as it was read, standing with his head down.

Brooks has said he plans to appeal his conviction.

Those killed in the incident last November were:

  • Virginia Sorenson, 79 years old
  • LeAnna Owen, 71 years old
  • Tamara Durand, 52 years old
  • Jane Kulich, 52 years old
  • Wilhelm Hospel, 81 years old
  • Jackson Sparks, 8 years old
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