Darrell Brooks trial: Who are the key players?

Darrell Brooks, 40, is on trial for the November 2021 Waukesha Christmas parade attack that killed six and injured more than 60. Here's a look at key players in what's expected to be a lengthy trial, including the judge, lawyers, witnesses and victims.

District Attorney Sue Opper charged Brooks with the following 76 counts:

  • 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
  • One count of battery – domestic abuse

Judge Jennifer Dorow cleared the entire month of October for the trial.  

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Here’s a list of key people who will be a part of it:


Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow

Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow will preside over the trial.  Dorow was appointed by former Governor Scott Walker in December 2011 and sworn in the following year.  Dorow currently serves as Waukesha County’s chief judge, supervising and directing the administration of the district.

In March, Dorow disclosed she had a professional relationship with a parade victim's father. She said he helped her and Dorow’s husband with estate planning. Dorow said the man previously donated $500 to her judicial campaign and she offered him her condolences after the parade via text messages.

Dorow said she hasn’t interacted with him since and pledged to officiate the case impartially.



Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper leads the prosecution.  Former Governor Scott Walker appointed Opper to the position of district attorney in 2015, replacing Brad Schimel.  Opper earned her Juris Doctor degree from Marquette University Law School and her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Deputy District Attorney Lesli Boese and Assistant District Attorney Zachary Witchow will also represent the State at trial.


Darrell Brooks is defending himself in this trial after his attorneys submitted a motion to withdraw. 

Judge Dorow ruled Sept. 28 Brooks can defend himself and waive his right to an attorney.

It's a decision Brooks' own mother said is a bad idea, calling her son "unstable." Judge Dorow found Brooks suffers from a personality disorder and faces an uphill fight against an experienced prosecutorial team but is "competent" and "coherent. She did note a number of past outbursts in court in her ruling.

Brooks initially pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease, which could have resulted in him being sentenced to a mental institution rather than prison. He withdrew that plea in September without explanation. Dorow said in court Sept. 28 that psychologists found Brooks has a personality disorder but is mentally competent.

Dorow warned that without legal training he faces long odds against Opper and her assistants. But without a finding of mental incompetence, she said, she was legally bound to allow him to proceed.

Brooks can be volatile in court. During a hearing in August, he fell asleep at the defense table, woke up, went on a tirade and scuffled with a bailiff. At the Sept. 27 hearing on his attorneys' motion to withdraw, he repeatedly interrupted Dorow as she spoke. Dorow became so frustrated she adjourned until the next day.


Brooks' former attorneys

Attorneys Jeremy Perri and Anna Kees defended Brooks from November 2021 until Sept. 28.  Both are with the State Public Defenders Office in Waukesha County.  Perri graduated in 2002 from the University of Wisconsin Law School.  Kees graduated in 2009 from Marquette University Law School.


Darrell Brooks has a felony record that dates back to 1999 when he slashed another man's face with a knife.  He has been convicted of drug and gun crimes – strangulation and battery.  In 2011, Brooks tried to flee from a traffic stop and the officer feared Brooks was "trying to run him over."

In July 2020, Brooks was charged with a series of felonies after prosecutors say he fired a gun at his nephew outside a house on N. 19th Street in Milwaukee. After that shooting, Brooks was ordered to have no contact with a number of people, including his mother, Dawn Woods, but when he was arrested again just a couple of weeks ago on new crimes, it was his mother who bailed him out.

In early November 2021, Brooks was charged with two felonies and three misdemeanors, including second-degree recklessly endangering safety (domestic abuse assessments) after prosecutors say he ran over his girlfriend in a Milwaukee gas station parking lot. The incident left the mother of his child with a bloody face and tire tracks on her leg. According to prosecutors, he later tried to persuade the woman to not cooperate with investigators in exchange for marriage.

Darrell Brooks Jr.

In that 2020 shooting case, cash bond was set at $10,000 in July 2020, online court records show, but "adjusted down" to $7,500 in August 2020. In February 2021, nine months before the Christmas parade attack, it was "adjusted down" again to $500. That $500 cash bond was posted in May 2021.

Cash bond was set at $1,000 in that domestic violence case on Nov. 5, 2021.

Brooks’ mother posted the $1,000 bail in the domestic violence case on Nov. 11, 2021, but Brooks was not released from the custody of the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office until at least Nov. 16, 2021. That’s when he appeared before a Waukesha County judge, by phone, in the custody of the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department for failure to pay in a child support case. A judge released Brooks on his own recognizance in that case – just days before the parade attack, which led to outrage and renewed calls for bail reform.

The "low bail" and the fact that Brooks was free after posting it before he allegedly killed six people and injured dozens of others in Waukesha led to outrage and renewed calls for bail reform.


In August, prosecutors filed 32 pages worth of potential witnesses they could call at trial.  

The list includes people who attended Waukesha’s Christmas Parade and saw or recorded the attack.  The list also includes personnel from the Big Bend Police Department, Chenequa Police Department, Department of Criminal Investigations (DCI), Delafield Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Franklin Police Department, Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, Milwaukee Police Department, Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department, Waukesha Police Department, Waukesha County Medical Examiner’s Office, Wauwatosa Police Department, Wisconsin State Patrol and the State Crime Lab.  Prosecutors have estimated five to seven business days to present their case.

Video of the parade attack will be a key component of the State’s case.  


Detective Michael Carpenter with the Waukesha Police Department is expected to show a video of the attack edited from multiple sources and angles.  According to a court filing, Carpenter will "organize the content in a single timeline, adjust timing offsets to real-time and tag important observations and clips.  Based on the video analysis, he will calculate the actual speed of the vehicle driven by the defendant as it traveled in the 400 block of Main Street."

Before Brooks fired them, his defense attorneys submitted three witnesses and two potential expert witnesses.  Dawn Woods, Brooks’ mother, was on the list.  The two experts included an accident reconstructionist with Skogen Engineering Group and a doctor with Medical Pharmacology and Toxicology Consulting.  The defense noted that doctor would "testify regarding the drug blood results and the lab testing of Mr. Brooks’ blood results showing Delta-9 THC."


Virginia Sorenson, 79; Leanna Owen, 71; Tamara Durand, 52; Jane Kulich, 52; Wilhelm Hospel, 81 and Jackson Sparks, 8 were killed.

More than 60 people were injured, and 18 of them were children.

The parade attack impacted hundreds of people.  The Waukesha Community Foundation told FOX6 News in March that 560 people applied for more than $6 million raised through donations. 


Waukesha parade attack victims identified

The city of Waukesha’s Parade Memorial Commission voted in September to hire Thrive Architects for permanent memorials for the victims of last November's attack at Grede Park and on Main Street.  

For Grede Park, their design features a "Heart of Unity" with six ribbons representing the six victims coming together to form a heart. For Main Street, their design features a Waukesha Strong heart at the Five Points Intersection.  A design submitted by Carmen de la Paz will also be incorporated at the Grede Park location.