Brooks turned the plea into madness for the Waukesha parade. Here’s what that means

Darrell Brooks, charged with walking through the Waukesha Christmas Parade, has changed his plea to not guilty by reason of mental disability or illness. Here’s what that means for his trial.

Brooks, 40, is charged with killing six people and injuring more than 60, accused of driving his SUV in the Waukesha Christmas Parade in November 2021. After his request to move the trial off of Waukesha was dismissed on June 20, Brooks’ attorney Jeremy Perri announced that they were amending the plea.

The jury trial is scheduled to take place in Waukesha County Circuit Court from Oct. 3-28.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel spoke with forensic psychiatrist Ziv Cohen about what this new plea means for the trial. Cohen is based in New York and has provided expert testimony on defendants who have pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Recently, Cohen testified about the 2017 incident in which a man walked through Times Square, killing one and injuring 22 others. The jury found the man not guilty by reason of mental illness.

How the trial will change

The trial will take place in two phases. First, the jury will determine if there is enough evidence to prove that Brooks committed the acts he is charged with. If they find out he did, the trial moves to phase two, where the jury will decide if Brooks is mentally responsible for his actions.

When a court finds a defendant not guilty by reason of mental disability or mental illness, Cohen said the defendant usually goes to a maximum-security mental institution. Instead of receiving a prison sentence, psychiatrists would assess the accused and determine the level of supervision and security needed.

“So they can either be kept indefinitely in a maximum-security forensic psychiatric hospital or they can be transferred to a civilian hospital, which is a bit of a lower-security hospital,” Cohen said. “Many years later, they can even be returned to the community under supervision.”

It is not necessary to look beyond Waukesha County to find examples of such cases.

In the high-profile Slender Man stabbing case, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser pleaded guilty on the basis of mental retardation for their role in the stabbing of a classmate in 2014.

Weier was sentenced to 25 years in a mental hospital after pleading guilty to attempted second-degree intentional homicide. In September 2021, a judge released Weier to live with her father under GPS monitoring, and she will spend the remainder of her sentence under community supervision.

Geyser was sentenced to 40 years in a mental hospital, where she was treated for schizophrenia. She applied for parole earlier this month.

In another high-profile case, Alan Randall was found not guilty by reason of insanity, after being accused of killing two Summit police officers in 1975. He spent years in a psychiatric hospital and was released in 2013 after that doctors eventually concluded he wasn’t mentally ill.

Battle of Experts

The burden of proof is on the defense, which means they must prove that Brooks had serious mental illness at the time of the Waukesha Christmas parade. Cohen said “severe mental illness” generally refers to mental illnesses where thoughts are extremely disordered.

“Something like schizophrenia where you can have an episode where your relationship to reality is fundamentally impaired,” Cohen said. “As a result, you find it difficult to understand what is really going on, to understand that what you are doing is wrong, or even to have trouble controlling your behavior.”

Ultimately, Cohen said, it’s extremely difficult for defendants to succeed with an insanity defense.

“There’s a certain skepticism that jurors tend to have of individuals who claim to be insane,” Cohen said. “Especially when it’s a local jury, you’d think they’re going to be even more sensitive to that.”

Cohen said the defense is likely to bring in witnesses who can testify to Brooks’ mental illness, and the prosecution is likely to focus on witnesses to what happened at the Christmas parade.

“You’re going to see a pundit battle,” Cohen said. “We’re going to see different accounts presented by defense experts and prosecution experts.”

Brooks’ story

The court will review Brooks’ records, including criminal, medical, mental health and employment records.

Brooks has been charged with 10 felonies in the past, starting when he was 17 when he pleaded guilty to a felony charge of causing substantial bodily harm to another person in 1999. He was sentenced to three years probation on that charge and later served time behind bars for recklessly endangering the safety of family members and lawfully seducing a minor, among other charges.

After the Christmas parade incident, Brooks’ mother, Dawn Woods, and her family released a letter expressing their condolences to the victims of the parade and explaining that Brooks had not received proper resources to deal with his mental illness.

Milwaukee’s CBS 58 released the full letter, which reads: “Darrell has suffered from mental health issues since he was very young. During these years, he received counseling and took medication. When he became an adult, it was decided that he no longer suffered from mental illness. This decision left him without insurance or the financial means to pay for his medication and when it was determined [sic] advice needed. »

Woods said the family were not making excuses for Brooks’ conduct and wrote: ‘Jail is not the answer as they are released back into society sicker than they were when they entered.”

Lydia Morrell can be reached at 320-444-2339 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @lydia_morrell.

Comments are closed.