Darrell Brooks Jr. withdraws an insanity plea as the October trial approaches in the Waukesha Christmas Parade attack

Jim Riccioli
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

WAUKESHA - Less than a month before the start of his high-profile trial, Darrell Brooks Jr. has withdrawn his insanity plea, signaling a key change in how the case will proceed.

The decision was announced in Waukesha County Circuit Court on Friday ahead of a now-postponed jury status hearing that had been previously scheduled for that afternoon.

Brooks, the 40-year-old Milwaukee man accused of six first-degree intentional homicide and 71 other criminal counts tied to the Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy in 2021, is scheduled to stand trial beginning Oct. 3.

On June 20, his attorneys indicated Brooks wanted to change his earlier plea from not guilty to not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect — a special plea that would have forced the trial to be conducted in two phases.

Darrell Brooks Jr., left, speaks with his attorney Jeremy Perri, during a jury status hearing on Friday in Waukesha County Court in Waukesha. Brooks is charged with killing six people and injuring more than 60, accused of driving his SUV through the Waukesha Christmas parade in November 2021.

The first phase would have dealt with the allegations themselves as prosecutors attempted to prove Brooks was responsible for the six deaths and dozens of injuries that resulted when he drove his SUV through parade route on Nov. 21, 2021.

The second phase would have focused on his mental state at the time and whether it played a factor in his actions. His decision to again change his plea eliminated that element of a trial that had been expected to run nearly a month.

In court Friday, under procedural questioning from Judge Jennifer Dorow, Brooks offered little explanation for that decision.

"I have my own reasons why," he said, after confirming he had discussed the pros and cons of his decision with his attorneys to again continue on a straight not guilty plea.

Defense attorney Anna Kees, left, speaks with Waukesha County district attorney Susan Opper during a jury status hearing for Darrell Brooks Jr. Friday in Waukesha County Court in Waukesha.

As the trial approaches for Brooks, prosecutors and defense attorneys had planned to meet Friday to further hammer out details of how the jury will be selected and how the case will be presented. That didn't happen.

But the delay in the jury status hearing, which has been rescheduled for Sept. 19, was not related to the plea change. Instead, his attorneys indicated Brooks found it difficult to remain in court due to a tooth abscess.

Dorow cut short the discussion of Brooks' dental issues, saying it was inappropriate for her as a presiding trial judge to discuss such details without a separate motion for a writ of habeas corpus.

Prosecutors Sue Opper, Lesli Boese and Zachary Wittchow and defense attorneys Anna Kees and Jeremy Perri concurred that the delay would not affect the start of the trial on Oct. 3.

Dorow had ruled Aug. 26 against two defense motions to dismiss the case due to what Brooks' attorneys considered an improper search of his jail cell in July and to suppress statements made to investigators last November. That decision likewise kept the trial date on the schedule.

Contact Jim Riccioli at (262) 446-6635 or james.riccioli@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jariccioli.