WAUKESHA, Wis. - Long before the start of the trial for Darrell Brooks, 40, charged in the November 2021 Waukesha Christmas parade attack that killed six and injured more than 60, some had questions about whether he could receive a fair trial in Waukesha County.
In February, Brooks' lawyers at the time asked to move the trial or to bring in a jury from another county. His attorneys wanted to move the trial to somewhere other than Waukesha County – arguing the community connection to what happened would prevent their client from getting a fair trial.
The state suggested the county first send out a questionnaire.
This method helped narrow down jurors in another high-profile trial – the Slender Man case.
"Everyone expected it would take a week to impanel that jury, and it took a day," Judge Dorow said.
Of the more than 1,500 questionnaires returned as of mid-June, nearly half of possible jurors – 46% – said they attended the parade or knew someone who did. Another 13% said they attended a prayer vigil or fundraiser or donated to or expressed solidarity with the victims. Yet another 12% said they were adversely affected by the incident.
The defense argued those answers show the jury pool would be spoiled.
However, the state said an impartial jury could still be found with proper questioning during jury selection, and prosecutors said moving the trial would be a significant burden for the large number of victims who want to view the trial in person.
Judge Dorow cited a number of other national high-profile cases, including the Boston Marathon bombing and Enron, in the lead-up to her decision. Dorow said it's OK if jurors have familiarity in regard to the Brooks case or watched news reports on it. She said a prospective juror only needs to be impartial.
Dorow said the defense and prosecution would be able to strike more jurors from the jury pool than they typically could, allowing both sides to weed out any prejudice.
Christmas parade attack
Brooks is charged with 77 counts connected to the November 2021 Waukesha parade attack, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide. One homicide conviction would put him behind bars for life.
Prosecutors say on Nov. 21, 2021, Brooks met up with his ex-girlfriend in Frame Park, the same woman he is accused of running over with his red SUV earlier in November 2021. She told police they argued in his SUV before he started driving, and he "was driving around with one hand and striking her in the face with his other hand." She eventually got out and called her friends for help.
Waukesha parade attack victims identified
Soon after that, according to prosecutors, Brooks drove that red SUV through the parade route, killing Jackson Sparks, 8, Virginia Sorenson, 79, LeAnna Owen, 71, Tamara Durand, 52, Jane Kulich, 52 and Wilhelm Hospel, 81. More than 60 others were hurt.
Brooks was arrested the night of the attack, soon after telling a Waukesha resident that he was homeless and waiting for an Uber. The man was unaware of the events that had occurred and let Brooks into his home.
Brooks entered an insanity plea in June after initially pleading not guilty to the charges in February. He later dropped the insanity plea on Sept. 9.
Darrell Brooks is defending himself in the trial after Judge Dorow ruled he's competent to do so on Wednesday, Sept. 28. This, after Brooks' attorneys filed a motion to withdraw, telling the court Brooks desired to represent himself.