Darrell Brooks can defend self in parade trial, Judge Dorow rules

Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow ruled Wednesday, Sept. 28 Darrell Brooks can defend himself and waive his right to an attorney in the Waukesha Christmas parade attack trial.

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' now former defense attorneys, Jeremy Perri and Anna Kees, had "no comment" following their firing by Brooks. Both had represented Brooks since November 2021.


Brooks' now former defense attorneys, Jeremy Perri and Anna Kees

Dorow's decision leaves Brooks in the unusual position of defending himself against a score of charges, including six counts of intentional homicide. Dorow said he has a constitutional right to act as his own attorney if he's mentally competent.

"This court has warned Mr. Brooks what he's getting into," Dorow said.

Brooks met the 9 a.m. Wednesday deadline to complete the "waiver of right to attorney" required by Judge Dorow. 

During the 1 p.m. hearing to discuss the request, Brooks tested the patience of the court for a second day. During Tuesday's hearing, Dorow grew so frustrated with Brooks that she adjourned the proceeding and continued it Wednesday. Their exchanges were just as combative on Wednesday. Brooks constantly interrupted Dorow, and the judge warned him that if he continues to interrupt during the trial, she will admonish him in front of the jury.

"That's fine," Brooks responded.

The judge went line by line through Brooks’ waiver of right to attorney paperwork.  Dorow said Brooks' belief he can have "standby counsel" while representing himself isn’t possible.

Dorow reiterated the trial would not be delayed, with jury selection set to begin Oct. 3.

"This trial will start next Monday. Did you hear me say that?" said Dorow. "I heard you say that, but I object," Brooks said.

Brooks later said, "That's not my reason" for his decision to defend himself.

When asked whether he was requesting an adjournment of this trial, Brooks said, "I can't determine that until you make your decision." 

Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper asked Dorow to tell Brooks he cannot flip-flop on his decision to fire his attorneys. Dorow advised Brooks that in representing himself, he would be "sitting alone at that table with the sole responsibility of questioning witnesses."


Judge Jennifer Dorow

Dorow asked the defense how many times they met with Brooks. Attorney Perri said they met "at least 25 times" and discussed the charges with him. Perri said the defense attorneys "have not had any problem communicating with Mr. Brooks." He said everything had been communicated with Brooks, but not all was printed and given to him and not all electronic files had been reviewed.

Brooks told Dorow in court on Tuesday that his public defenders had not explained the nature of the charges to him.

Perri said it was the defense's "clear understanding" that Brooks' "desire and objective" was to represent himself.

Dorow asked Brooks whether he's currently receiving treatment for a mental or emotional problem, and Brooks said no. Opper noted that they reviewed 10 prior Wisconsin cases against Brooks and they "could not find, on any occasion, where competency was ever raised."

Dorow followed up by saying she has "no evidence" in this case that Brooks has a mental condition. Dorow said she reviewed evaluations four psychologists conducted of Brooks and agreed with their findings that while he has a personality disorder and is disruptive, he is intelligent and articulate enough to defend himself. 

Dorow then went over the charges and potential penalties (including life in prison) with Brooks again, and Brooks responded, "I am informed, yes." 

The judge again told Brooks he cannot act as his own attorney while simultaneously having counsel. She again warned him "it may be difficult for you to act as your own attorney." She warned him that he will have problems understanding the rules of evidence, when to object to rulings and how to examine witnesses without any training, but she can't stand in his way. Brooks responded, "Yeah, I heard you." Dorow asked again whether Brooks heard her advise him of the likely challenges of defending himself. Brooks said, "I did hear you. I don't see them as challenges at all."

Perri told the court the defense would ensure Brooks would have access to "electronic discovery" or documents in the case in representing himself.

Before making her final ruling, Dorow recapped the case thus far.

Also Wednesday, Dorow said victims' faces and witnesses will be shown during the trial, with an exception for those under 18. On Monday, Opper sent Dorow a letter asking that witnesses/victims not have their faces shown on TV/livestream and that she wants the victims to be able to attend the entire trial. 

Brooks waives right to attorney, mother's letter to Judge Dorow

On Wednesday morning, ahead of the hearing, a letter was filed by Brooks’ mother about "concerns" she has with "the defendant and his representation." 

The mother, Dawn Woods, told the judge she speaks with Brooks on a daily basis, and she said, "By our conversations, I could tell that he was becoming unstable." Woods wrote, "I tried to reason with him (Brooks) on Monday when I spoke to him. He told me he doesn't feel comfortable with his attorneys' way of how they want to present his case." Woods added later, "He's not capable of being his own attorney. How can a person who has a mental illness fully understand?" Brooks' mother finished by saying, "He needs help. I'm asking the court to recognize his unstable mental state and rule in his best interest."

Tuesday hearing on Brooks' attorney motion to withdraw

During Tuesday's hearing, Judge Dorow told Brooks, "We are done here today," accusing him of "playing games" in court. The judge said Brooks still needed to prove to the court that he can defend himself.

Tuesday's hearing was the most we've ever heard Brooks speak in court and the longest we've seen him at any hearing without his face covered. After more than an hour in court arguing why he should represent himself at trial, Judge Dorow granted a 15-minute break so Brooks could speak with the public defenders he was looking to fire. 

Earlier in the hearing, Brooks told Dorow he wants to represent himself as a "sovereign citizen."


Darrell Brooks

In an effort to ensure Brooks knows and understands his rights, Dorow explained to Brooks the experience of his attorneys and even questioned them regarding their education and experience. 

Brooks told Dorow, "I agree they have worked tirelessly on a lot of things in this case," but he added that there are "a lot of things" he doesn't understand in the case/proceedings. He told the judge, "I think I will be better served representing myself."

SIGN UP TODAY: Get daily headlines, breaking news emails from FOX6 News

She also asked if he understood that if he waived his right to an attorney, he would be on his own against a prosecutorial team with a combined 66 years of courtroom experience.

"Doesn't make me flinch a bit," Brooks said.

Brooks, who attended school through the 11th grade and HSED (Wisconsin's High School Equivalency Program), told Dorow he does "not understand" the 77 counts he's charged with, adding that he "would like to know the nature and cause of the charges." He also asked for copies of case paperwork that has been on file for months.


Prosecution team in Darrell Brooks trial

The charges were read to Brooks, and he was told the homicide counts (six for each person killed) are each punishable by a life term in prison. Brooks said, "I do not understand the nature and cause of the charges."

Dorow explained to Brooks that because he is not trained in the law, it "will make it hard for you."

Brooks said, "I simply want to represent myself to establish my sovereign citizen."

Dorow told Brooks that in order to allow him to defend himself, he must waive his right to an attorney, setting that 9 a.m. Wednesday deadline to submit the paperwork.

Christmas parade attack

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. 

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. 


Waukesha parade attack victims identified

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.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Get breaking news alerts in the FOX6 News app for iOS or Android

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. 

If Brooks is found guilty of just one of the intentional homicide charges, he'll face a mandatory life sentence. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.