Parade suspect’s mother asks judge not to allow self-representation

Posted at 1:11 PM, September 28, 2022 and last updated 8:14 PM, July 13, 2023

WAUKESHA, Wis. (Court TV / AP / WTMJ) — Prosecutors are seeking to expedite a Wisconsin judge’s decision to refuse Darrell Brooks his right to represent himself at his own murder trial. Included in the request from the Waukesha County District Attorney’s office was a hand-written letter from the defendant’s mother, imploring the judge not to allow her son to represent himself due to his mental health issues.

Darrell Brooks Jr., left, speaks with his attorney Jeremy Perri, during a jury status hearing on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022 in Waukesha County Court in Waukesha, Wis. (Scott Ash/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)

Brooks is accused of killing six people and injuring dozens more after allegedly driving his SUV through a Christmas parade in Waukesha.

The hearing over this matter was cut short on Tuesday after a combative exchange in which Brooks loudly declared he didn’t understand the 77 charges against him or that he could face hundreds of years in prison if legally convicted. Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow gave Darrell Brooks until Wednesday morning to decide whether he still wants to represent himself. If he does, she promised to schedule another hearing later in the day.

Waukesha County Office of the District Attorney

In a heartfelt letter to the judge, Brooks’ mother Dawn Woods says she speaks daily with her son and tried to reason with him, but her son “doesn’t feel comfortable with his attorneys’ way of how they want to present his case.” She goes on to beg the judge to not allow him to represent himself asking, “How can a person who has mental illness fully understand?”

Brooks’ trial is set to begin Monday. It’s unclear if Dorow would delay the proceedings if Brooks is allowed to represent himself. District Attorney Susan Opper filed a brief Monday urging her not to push the trial back, arguing that the trial date was set back in March and that a delay would inconvenience the hundreds of witnesses she might call and extend the parade victims’ emotional turmoil.

Brooks, 40, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity but withdrew that plea earlier this month. His attorneys, Anna Kees and Jeremy Perri, last week filed a motion to withdraw from the case because Brooks wants to represent himself.

Brooks told Dorow that he wants to represent himself because Kees and Perri haven’t explained the “nature and cause” of the charges. He did not explain what that meant.

Judge Jennifer Dorow presides over a jury status hearing for Darrell Brooks Jr. on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022 in Waukesha County Court in Waukesha, Wis. Brooks, accused of killing six people and injuring dozens of others when he allegedly drove his SUV through a Christmas parade in Wisconsin last year, withdrew his insanity plea Friday. (Scott Ash/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)

Dorow asked Brooks if he understood what he was doing, if he understood the seriousness of the charges and if he understood that he could face life in prison if he’s convicted on the homicide counts. She also asked if he understood 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.

He also told Dorow he didn’t understand the charges, the penalties or how legal documents are captioned, and that he didn’t know Opper represents the state, even though she has been at all of his previous court appearances and identified herself as the district attorney.

He finally refused to continue until the judge explained to him how the state has the legal power to prosecute him when the state wasn’t injured.

An exasperated Dorow warned Brooks not to play games with her.

“Sir, this is a legitimate case,” she said. “I’m not going to make a mockery (of it) by letting you ask this question.”

She finally called a recess. When the court reconvened, she gave Brooks a packet of documents outlining trial administration.