Waukesha Christmas parade attack: Can Darrell Brooks get fair trial?

The man accused of driving through crowds at the Waukesha Christmas Parade wants his trial moved from Waukesha County. 

It is expensive and inconvenient. But the fundamental question that will drive the court's decision is simple. Can Darrell Brooks get a fair trial in Waukesha County?

The Waukesha parade attack killed six people, hurt more than 60 others, and traumatized an entire community. But the state still has the burden of proving Darrell Brooks did it.

Darrell Brooks

"I think most of Waukesha has this guy convicted," said former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske. 

The former justice said that could be sufficient grounds for moving the trial.

"There’s a lot of tainted information out there," Geske said.

Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske

But Geske said judges typically hesitate. 

"Very expensive," Geske said.

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On Friday, March 11, Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow will hear arguments from Brooks' lawyer who last month filed a motion for a change of venue. 

"The benefit of the doubt has to be given to the defendant," said criminal defense expert Jonathan Smith, who said pretrial publicity is not the only factor. It is the pervasive impact of the crime itself.

Jonathan Smith

"Seems like everybody knows somebody who, at least knows somebody who was there," Smith said.

Brooks' lawyers cite not only the 67 victims, but more than 500 area school children who got counseling, thousands more who witnessed the parade, and the hundreds of thousands who shared the hashtag #WaukeshaStrong on social media.

"Is there anyone in Waukesha County who doesn’t have an opinion on this case?" Smith asked. "Well, I’m always surprised at the number of people who haven’t heard about things."

"It’s going to be hard to find people who say I can look at this impartially," Geske said.

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The impact is so far-reaching that earlier this week, Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper sent a letter to the court acknowledging the father of one of the adults killed in the parade has "some familiarity" with the judge. It is an issue the judge said she will address on Friday.

"Whether that is just a passing reference… or a more direct connection, that is something we’re going to have to let the judge decide," Smith said.

Of course, the case may never actually go to trial. But if it does, Smith said the court wants to get it right the first time.

"They don’t want to have to come back and do this again," Smith said.

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