The case against the man charged in the 2021 Waukesha Christmas Parade massacre will soon go to the jury. Here are answers to questions that have come up during Darrell Brooks Jr.’s three-week trial which has featured both heart-wrenching eye-witness testimony and frustrating delays as Brooks, 40, acting as his own attorney, engaged Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow in repeated interruption and argument.
Who’s the jury?
Dorow and the lawyers (Brooks had been represented by two public defenders until shortly before trial) used an extensive questionnaire to help whittle down a much larger than normal pool of potential jurors, before the final selection process, known as voir dire, took place in court. Sixteen people, ten men and six women, all white, have been hearing the case.
How will deliberations occur?
Four members of the jury will be selected at random as alternates prior to deliberations. While they all have been allowed to go home each night during the trial, after daily admonitions not to read or watch coverage of the case, that will change Tuesday. The jury will be sequestered at an area hotel until it reaches the verdicts.
How long will it take for a verdict?
Given the paucity of Brooks’ defense, many observers expect the jury to decide matters rather quickly. But the fact jurors must go through and consider 76 charges means it could take hours regardless of how quickly the jury might agree on the final outcome.
Could Brooks face the death penalty in Wisconsin if convicted?
No. Wisconsin does not have the death penalty. If Brooks is convicted of any of the six counts of first-degree intentional homicide, he would face a mandatory life sentence. Even if he were acquitted of those counts, he could still face life in prison if the judge gave him lesser, but consecutive sentences on dozens of charges of recklessly endangering safety of other parade participants and spectators. The charge carries a penalty of up to 7½ years in prison, plus five more years if a dangerous weapon (like a car) was used.
What is jury nullification and could it apply to Brooks?
Jury nullification refers to when a jury ignores the law and acquits someone who is technically guilty. Lawyers can’t openly argue for it, and Brooks can’t either, but some of his questions and comments during the trial have hinted that he might see that as his only chance.
While rare, nullification does come up in emotional cases like those involving anti-abortion activists, tax protesters and some drug cases — but also in any case where the jury can be persuaded that to follow the law would be an injustice.
There’s even a national organization devoted to the topic that believes juries should always be told, not just the law applicable to the case they’re considering, but also that they have the power and authority to follow their conscience.
According to the Fully Informed Jury Association website, the primary purpose of the jury is “to protect fellow citizens from tyrannical abuses of power by government.” That doesn’t seem likely for Brooks.
How was the trial affected by Brooks’ decision to represent himself without attorneys?
During the trial, Brooks’ behavior ate up hours of time unrelated to the presentation of evidence and testimony. He frequently talked over and interrupted the judge, and repeatedly was removed to an adjacent courtroom where he could participate via audio-visual equipment. Once he would calm down and agreed to observe court decorum, Dorow would allow him back.
Why was Brooks constantly bringing up subject matter jurisdiction?
Another aspect of the trial’s slow pace was Brooks’ claim to be a sovereign citizen, and his use of the movement’s unfounded legal arguments. Brooks constantly challenged Judge Dorow’s credentials and performance. For instance, when she would cite a statute or case law about a ruling, he would respond, “Is that lawful law?” He also made a point, usually several times per day, that he didn’t legally recognize his own name or consent to being called Darrell Brooks, in part because it was spelled in all capital letters in some court records.
Does Brooks have a legal education?
Not a formal one. He testified that he completed 11th grade. But he has been a defendant in criminal cases many times. He clearly picked up enough knowledge of trial procedure to raise some issues and ask some questions during cross-examination of state witnesses that were sharp enough to earn compliments from the judge. Most of those, however, were examples of form over substance, like harassing an elderly woman over a possible misstatement or observation that several other witnesses made or saw.
What was Brooks’ defense?
Brooks made a teary opening statement at trial. Based on his cross-examination of state witnesses, and testimony from the few witnesses he called, he seemed to be looking for a basis to suggest prosecutors haven’t clearly established he was the driver of the 2010 red Ford Escape that struck the victims.
Will Brooks appeal any convictions?
Probably. He appears to enjoy acting as his own attorney, and could try to do the same on appeal. Judge Dorow has tried to make a meticulous record of her rulings to Brooks’ arguments, so that doesn’t seem fertile ground for a successful appeal.
Were Brooks’ 6th Amendment rights violated?
The sixth amendment entitles criminal defendants a right to a speedy public trial before an impartial jury, and to the assistance of counsel. Brooks very clearly waived his right to an attorney. He has argued that no jury drawn from Waukesha County could ever be impartial. The amendment also requires a defendant to “be informed of the nature and cause” of the charges. Brooks has continually stated he doesn’t understand the “nature and cause of the charges.”
Was there any effort to plea bargain the case?
Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper said she did extend an offer to Brooks, but it wasn’t much incentive for him to avoid trial. It would have dismissed a few counts and all the “use of a deadly weapon” enhancers, but still resulted in six consecutive life sentences upon his guilty pleas to the first 67 counts.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: What’s next in Darrell Brooks Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy trial?
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