WAUKESHA, Wis. — The man charged with driving through a 2021 Christmas parade, killing six people and injuring dozens of others, made a tearful opening statement Thursday as he began presenting his own defense.
Darrell Brooks Jr., who waived his right to an attorney and has been representing himself in a monthlong trial filled with disruptions and outbursts, said the incident was not premeditated.
“This incident was not planned. This incident was not intentional. This incident was never even thought about,” Brooks told the jury.
Brooks, 40, of Milwaukee, is charged with six counts of first-degree intentional homicide, 61 counts of recklessly endangering safety, six counts of hit-and-run causing death, two counts of bail jumping — all felonies in connection to the parade tragedy — and one count of misdemeanor battery.
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Defendant gives emotional opening statement
Brooks was visibly emotional as he talked about the impact to the families of victims, the community of Waukesha and his own family. He removed the face mask he has donned for most of the trial so the jury could “see me for who I am, no mask.”
“There’s always two sides to every story,” he said. “There’s only been one side told to this story.”
Brooks’ opening statement came after attorneys with the district attorney’s office rested their case following more than a week and a half of testimony.
Prosecutors questioned witnesses who were at the parade, officers involved in the investigation and residents of the neighborhood where Brooks was ultimately arrested. They showed videos of the car striking people and displayed the items of clothing Brooks allegedly discarded after abandoning the car.
Tempers flare amid interruptions
Judge Jennifer Dorow warned Brooks Thursday after numerous interruptions and “disrespectful” behavior that she would send him out of the courtroom to participate in questioning from another room via video, as she has done one time before in the presence of the jury and several times in the trial before testimony began.
Brooks has repeatedly challenged the judge’s authority and balked at her rulings. On Thursday, after the state showed a video Brooks had posted to social media of him rapping, which featured the red SUV that struck people in the parade, Brooks vehemently objected. He called it “ridiculous” that he be expected to give a legal argument as to why it should not be shown.
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After some back and forth with Brooks repeatedly interrupting the judge, Dorow said she was “advising” him to sit down and be quiet. Brooks has remarked to the judge multiple times, “Are you asking me or telling me?” and said that nobody can tell him what to do.
“I don’t need to ask you, I’m telling you” to sit down, Dorow said Thursday, adding, “I don’t care if you don’t like my tone” after his retort.
She stopped short of sending him out of the room, calling for a break instead.
First defense witnesses testify
Brooks’ defense strategy will unfold over the next several days of testimony, as he questions witnesses he hopes will help his case.
So far Brooks has questioned both the state’s witnesses and his own on their memories of the incident, seeming to lay some groundwork to argue he could not be positively identified as the driver of the vehicle despite overwhelming video and photo evidence.
He’s also asked witnesses, especially law enforcement called by the state, about their interactions with the district attorney’s office and attempted to put forth incorrect legal arguments questioning the court’s authority to oversee his case and the state’s authority to bring a claim. Dorow has repeatedly debunked the lines of questioning and admonished Brooks for making them.
Thursday Brooks questioned Nicholas Kirby, a friend of Brooks’ ex-girlfriend who had already been called to testify by the district attorney. Kirby testified he and another friend, Kori Runkel, came to help Brooks’ ex-girlfriend after she called Kirby and said Brooks had assaulted her. Brooks questioned his memory of the events and details about what he saw and didn’t see first hand.
Testimony got heated as Kirby said he cautioned the ex-girlfriend from meeting up with Brooks, saying it was a “bad idea” and he was worried for her safety, and said he “saw a red SUV take off like a bat out of hell down Main Street and go through a crowd of people.”
“How many times do I have to say yes for you to understand it? Y-e-s spells yes,” Kirby said to Brooks at one point, and Dorow ordered the comments be stricken from the record.
Brooks also questioned Heather Riemer, a parade attendee who said she clearly saw Brooks’ face as he drove the red SUV before the parade.
He plans to call nine more witnesses, including his ex-girlfriend who previously testified, before resting his case.