Darrell Brooks withdraws insanity plea ahead of Waukesha parade trial

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WAUKESHA — Less than a month before his high-profile trial begins, Darrell Brooks Jr. has withdrawn his insanity plea, signaling a key shift in how the case will play out.

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

Brooks, the 40-year-old Milwaukee man charged with six first-degree intentional homicides and 71 other counts related to the Waukesha Christmas Parade Tragedy in 2021, must be judged from October 3.

On June 20, his lawyers indicated that Brooks wanted modify his previous plea from not guilty to not guilty by reason of disease or mental defect – a special plea which would have forced the trial take place in two phases.

Phase one would have dealt with the allegations themselves as prosecutors try to prove Brooks was responsible for the six deaths and dozens of injuries that occurred when he drove his SUV down the parade route on November 21, 2021.

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

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

“I have my own reasons,” he said, after confirming he had discussed the pros and cons of his decision with his lawyers to pursue a plea of ​​not guilty again.

Defense attorney Anna Kees, left, talks to Waukesha County prosecutor Susan Opper during a jury status hearing for Darrell Brooks Jr. Friday in Waukesha County Court in Waukesha.

As Brooks’ trial neared, prosecutors and defense attorneys had planned to meet on Friday to work out details of jury selection and case presentation. This does not happen.

But the delay in the jury status hearing, which was postponed until September 19, was unrelated to the plea change. Instead, his lawyers said Brooks was struggling to stay in court due to an abscessed tooth.

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

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

Dorow had ruled on August 26 against two defense motions to dismiss the case over what Brooks’ attorneys considered an improper search of his jail cell in July and to suppress statements made to investigators last November. This decision also kept the trial date on the schedule.

Contact Jim Riccioli at (262) 446-6635 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @jariccioli.

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