Judge grants accused Waukesha parade driver’s request to represent himself during jury trial

Brooks faces 77 criminal charges, including 6 counts of first-degree intentional homicide

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Darrell Brooks Jr. sits alone in court after a judge granted his request to represent himself
Darrell Brooks Jr. sits alone in court after a judge granted his request to represent himself on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Zoom

Darrell Brooks Jr., who was accused of purposefully plowing his car through the Waukesha Christmas Parade last year, will represent himself during the upcoming jury trial where he faces 77 criminal charges, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide.

Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow granted Brooks’ request Wednesday. The decision follows two days of hearings after Brooks’ attorney Jeremy Perri filed a motion in Waukesha County Circuit Court last week asking that he and assistant public defender Anna Kees be taken off the case.

Dorow said Brooks cannot have standby counsel during the trial, meaning Brooks will not have any help from a lawyer. The trial is set to start with jury selection on Monday, Oct. 3.

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At the initial hearing on the request Tuesday, Dorow and Brooks sparred at times about whether Brooks understood the charges against him. On Wednesday, Dorow rebuked Brooks after he continued to speak out in the courtroom.

“At trial, what’s going to happen if you continue to do that (interrupt), is you will be admonished in front of the jury if you continue that,” Dorow told Brooks.

“That’s fine … that’s fine,” Brooks answered.

Dorow also said she believed Brooks was mentally competent enough to represent himself. Dorow also maintained that the start of the trial wouldn’t be moved back.

“I have not been able to find on the record and he (Brooks) has not advised the court of any disability, physical or psychological or otherwise, that would affect his ability to communicate with the court or with a jury,” Dorow said.

During the hearing Wednesday, Perri said he met with Brooks at least 25 times in the past few months, where they’ve explained his charges and penalties. Brooks said Tuesday he didn’t “understand” the charges, but rather that he was “aware” of them.

Perri also said there were no issues with Brooks’ literacy and his ability to communicate with them.

Brooks submitted a “waiver to the right of attorney” form Wednesday morning, at Dorow’s request. In that form, Brooks said he has received past treatment for “mental or emotional problems.” Brooks also wrote in the waiver that he didn’t want to give up his “right to assistance of counsel.”

But Dorow said that wouldn’t be the case.

“This court will not appoint any other attorneys to act as standby counsel, if this court grants your request to represent yourself,” Dorow said.

In a brief filed Monday, Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper said she wasn’t opposed to Brooks representing himself as long as that didn’t delay the trial.

“Any request to adjourn the trial at this late date is untimely and should be denied,” Opper wrote.

Before the hearing Wednesday, Brooks’ mother Dawn Woods submitted a letter to Dorow which said she was “deeply concerned” by what happened in court the previous day. She said she called Brooks’ attorneys a month ago with her concerns.

“I told them that I believed he was becoming unstable,” she wrote in the letter.

She asked Dorow to not let him represent himself, saying it would be a “big mistake.” She said she spoke to her son on Monday, and he told her then that he didn’t feel comfortable with how his attorneys planned to present his case.

“He needs help; I’m asking the court to recognize his unstable mental state and rule in his best interest,” the letter said.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court decision State v Klessig said the if a defendant wants to represent himself, the court must ensure the defendant, “made a deliberate choice to proceed without counsel, was aware of the difficulties and disadvantages of self-representation, was aware of the seriousness of the charge or charges against him, and was aware of the general range of penalties that could have been imposed on him.”

In the aftermath of the parade tragedy, the community rallied together. Over $6 million was raised from across the nation and world for the victims and those who were impacted. The community also saw a visit from First Lady Jill Biden, who met with victims and their families.

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