Darrell Brooks Jr. will represent himself at the upcoming Waukesha Christmas Parade trial, judge rules

Jim Riccioli
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

WAUKESHA - Darrell Brooks Jr. will head into his October homicide and reckless endangerment trial without an attorney.

The 40-year-old Milwaukee man accused of 77 criminal counts tied to the 2021 Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy appeared in court Wednesday for a second consecutive day, affirming his intention to represent himself.

Wednesday's hearing was prompted by his decision to formally waive his right to an attorney, a requirement in order for Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow to consider his request.

Despite problems that persisted into the second day, Dorow ultimately acknowledged Brooks' right to represent himself.

"Acting as your own attorney may be very challenging," she told Brooks.

Like Tuesday's hearing, Wednesday's three-hour session was intended to be largely procedural, with Dorow interviewing Brooks to make sure he understood the various implications of acting as his own attorney, and how it could put him at a trial disadvantage.

In statements, Dorow also stressed that both in her own observations, as well as medical reports prompted by Brooks' now-withdrawn insanity plea defense, she saw no evidence that he was legally incompetent to represent himself.

But the hearing, which had a more conciliatory tone, was not without the same testy exchanges between Brooks and Dorow, who repeatedly chided him for interrupting her when she tried to read certain language into the court record.

Among the points Brooks objected to was any discussion of his competency and related medical reports now that he is no longer pursuing an insanity defense.

Later, Dorow warned Brooks that such interruptions would not be tolerated at the trial. It's possible that she would be forced to "admonish" him within view of the jury, implying that it could influence how jurors viewed him.

Brooks' mother urged the court not to let him represent himself

The strained exchanges between Brooks and Dorow purportedly prompted Brooks' mother, Dawn Woods, to write a letter overnight to Dorow expressing, among other things, that she believed her son was acting "unstable," affecting his decision to represent himself.

"I speak to Darrell on a daily basis and by our conversations I can tell that he was becoming unstable," Woods wrote.

She said she previously raised such concerns with his attorneys, but claims they didn't take her seriously. So she turned to the court.

"I am now asking you to please please do not let him represent himself," Woods wrote. "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. I asked him to let you know and if it's possible ask for different lawyers to represent him."

She said he rejected her viewpoint and, in her words, "would not listen to reason."

Woods concluded her letter by stating: "I know he will not be happy that I wrote you and become angry. I hope one day he will understand I did it out of love."

Dorow acknowledged receiving the letter, but noted it could have no bearing in her decision, which relied on other legal standards and medical information, plus her own observations.

Darrell Brooks Jr’s., attorneys Anna Kees, right, and Jeremy Perri, left, prepare to leave court after Brooks, right, is granted to proceed in the trial without council on Wednesday. The trial is set to begin next Monday.

Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper, who previously said the prosecution had no objection to Brooks representing himself, said she also favored the argument that Brooks was more than competent, legally, to do so.

Dorow warned Brooks that, because he would have no legal counsel at his table, he would in affect be taking on a team of three experienced lawyers in the district attorneys office and that he would still be expected to act within the rules of the court, with no one to guide him about what those rules are.

Following her ruling, his attorneys — public defenders Jeremy Perri and Anna Kees — immediately withdrew from the counsel table, leaving Brooks sitting alone.

Dorow said she does not intend to delay the start of the trial, setting aside speculation about whether Brooks' efforts — which she described as well beyond the legal standard of "11th hour" issues — could even consider asking for a delay.

The trial is scheduled to run from Oct. 3-28, according to court records. As recently as two weeks ago, it appeared the trial would not require the full four weeks. But experts say that if Brooks is allowed to represent himself, it could slow down the process.

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