MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) — A court commissioner is set to decide Friday whether to stand trial for murder of a Milwaukee man accused of ramming his SUV at a Christmas parade, killing six people and injuring dozens more.
Darrell Brooks Jr. is due to appear in Waukesha County Court before Commissioner Kevin Costello at a preliminary hearing. Such hearings, where a court official decides whether there is enough evidence to bring the defendant to trial, are usually a formality but can shed light on defense and prosecution strategies.
Brooks drove his mother’s maroon Ford Escape to a parade in downtown Waukesha on November 21, according to the criminal complaint. He continued to drive despite police orders to stop, and some officers told investigators that the driver appeared to be deliberately trying to run people over. and “citizen witnesses” telling detectives that the SUV never slowed down.
Some of the people he hit flew up on the hood of the Getaway; According to the complaint, at one point Brooks had to lean out of the driver’s window to drive the car because the man landed on the windshield.
Six people were killed and dozens more were injured. A few days later, District Attorney Susan Opper charged Brooks with six counts of first-degree murder. He faces a life sentence if found guilty on even one count. Opper added a host of additional charges this week, including reckless endangerment, hit and run with death, bail jumping and battery.
Possible motives remain unknown. Court documents filed on Wednesday allege that Brooks beat his child’s mother minutes before leaving for the parade because she refused to bail him out of jail after he was arrested for allegedly hitting her with a same car earlier in November.
Brooks was arrested in neighboring Milwaukee County in an alleged earlier incident. He was released from jail on November 19, two days before the parade, after posting a $1,000 bail.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, was heavily criticized for recommending such a low bail for Brooks.
In December, Chisholm told county officials that the COVID-19 pandemic had caused a backlog of cases in his office. An assessment of the risk Brooks posed to the public never made it into his office’s computer system and went unnoticed, Chisholm said, and a young, overworked assistant prosecutor recommended $1,000 bail for him so she could move on to other cases.
In December, a group of Milwaukee County taxpayers filed a complaint with Governor Tony Evers demanding that Chisholm be removed from office. A lawyer hired by the Evers administration to review the complaint concluded on Tuesday that the complaint had technical legal flaws and was invalid. Evers refused to take any action against Chisholm, his fellow Democrat.
Chisholm pushed for the termination of the cash bail, saying it was unfair to the poor defendants. He wants a new system where only violent criminals are jailed pending trial.
The Brooks case prompted Republican lawmakers to introduce bills that would require a $10,000 minimum bail for people with a prior felony or violent misdemeanor. They will also require the Wisconsin Department of Justice to create a “bond transparency report” detailing crimes and bail conditions.
Evers and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul said they would support a stricter bail policy.
This story has been amended to show that it is the commissioner of the court, not the judge, who will decide whether to tie Brooks up for trial.
Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter: twitter.com/@trichmond1