The sentencing hearing for the man convicted of intentionally killing six people when he drove an SUV into the 2021 Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, will continue Wednesday after a threat phoned into the court paused proceedings a day earlier.
Lt. Nicholas Wenzel of the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department called it a “minor disruption,” but it was enough to pause Tuesday’s impact statements from victims, about 10 of whom had already addressed the court. Shortly before 10 am CT, an unknown person called the county communications center and threatened a mass shooting, Wenzel said in a statement.
A bailiff ran to the front of the court and whispered to Judge Jennifer Dorow, who called a recess, according to CNN affiliate WTMJ. After more than an hour, she summarized Darrell Brooks’ hearing. Brooks, who represented himself at trial, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
At the hearing, slated to continue at noon Wednesday, victims and their loved ones were given the opportunity to speak out about what they have lost and endured.
Among the more than 40 people delivering statements to the court were relatives of Virginia Sorenson, part of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies troupe that lost three of its members in the attack, WTMJ reported.
“I will continue to struggle with the loss,” said Sorenson’s husband, David. “I am lucky to have family care for me and wrap me in love so that I can start to glue together the shattered life I now have.”
While some addressing the court said victims they were willing to forgive the killer, Sorenson told the judge, “I ask you to send this evil animal to life in prison with no chance for parole for the callous murder of my wife,” WTMJ reported.
Dancing Grannies talk about love of what they do months before parade tragedy
– Source: CNN
Alisha Kulich, the daughter of 52-year-old Jane Kulich, who was killed attending the parade, lamented that her mother will miss so many milestones in her and her siblings’ – and Jane Kulich’s grandchildren’s – lives, the station reported.
“She won’t get to see me say my vows or get married to the love of my life,” Alisha Kulich said. “And she won’t ever get to see my future kids, and they won’t know what it’s like to have a grandma who spoils them.”
Brooks, 40, was found guilty last month of six counts of first-degree intentional homicide for driving his vehicle into a crowd of parade attendees on November 21, 2021. He killed six people and wounded dozens more, including 16 youngsters who were transferred to Children’s Wisconsin for treatment.
In addition to Sorenson and Kulich, Jackson Sparks, 8, Tamara Durand, 52, Lee Owen, 71, and Wilhelm Hospel, 81, were killed. Sparks was walking with his baseball team during the parade. Durand and Owen were Dancing Grannies, along with Sorenson, and Hospel was the husband of a Dancing Granny who survived the attack.
Prosecutors provided evidence showing Brooks intentionally drove through the crowd. In a criminal complaint, an officer who stepped in front of Brooks’ vehicle, ordering him to stop, said Brooks looked “directly at him, and it appeared he had no emotion on his face.”
The SUV passed the officer and accelerated, stopped at an intersection, then accelerated again – tires squealing – and began zig-zagging as “bodies and objects” flew, the complaint said, adding that another witness said Brooks was trying to avoid vehicles, rather than people, and made no attempt to slow down.
In a tearful closing argument, Brooks posited what would be the reaction if the car malfunctioned and was unable to stop and the driver panicked. He claimed there was a recall on the vehicle he was driving, but Dorow struck the remarks from the record.
“He reached speeds of approximately 30 miles per hour. That’s intentional,” District Attorney Susan Opper said. “He plowed through 68 different people. Sixty-eight. How can you hit one and keep going? How can you hit two and keep going?”
A jury also handed down guilty verdicts on 61 counts of recklessly endangering safety with the use of a dangerous weapon, six counts of fatal hit and run, two counts of felony bail jumping and one count of misdemeanor domestic battery. It was a clean sweep for the prosecution.
In June, Brooks entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, but his public defenders withdrew it in September. They then withdrew themselves from representing Brooks, and Dorow permitted Brooks to represent himself.
He was belligerent and disruptive at trial, often speaking over Dorow to make outlandish arguments. Dorow at times put Brooks in a separate room, where he could take part via a monitor and was muted unless he was his turn to speak.
SUV strikes marching band during Wisconsin holiday parade
Brooks’ mother, Dawn Woods, expressed concern that her son was not capable of defending himself and asked the judge not to allow it, WTMJ reported.
“He is not stable mentally enough to fully understand the big mistake he is making by wanting to represent himself,” she said, according to WTMJ. “That alone should be enough to see he’s not capable of being his own attorney.”
Brooks had been charged in a domestic abuse case and was released from jail on $1,000 bail less than two weeks before the parade. He was accused of running over a woman who claimed to be the mother of his child, according to court documents. Prosecutors later acknowledged the bail set was “inappropriately low.”