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Jury selection to begin in last year's deadly Christmas parade in Wisconsin

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Jury selection begins today for a man accused of driving into a Christmas parade, killing six people in Waukesha, Wis. Darrell Brooks plans to represent himself in court. Here's Chuck Quirmbach of our member station WUWM.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH, BYLINE: Waukesha is 20 miles west of Milwaukee. It's downtown, a trendy area of restaurants and antique shops. On Main Street, artist Thomas Beukes (ph) sits in a chair painting, not far from where he and his wife stood last November as they joined thousands watching the city's annual Christmas parade.

THOMAS BEUKES: We saw this red car coming at us about 50 miles an hour. And I'm thinking, he's going too fast for the curve. I was thinking, what am I going to do, jump in these bushes?

QUIRMBACH: The driver turned the vehicle and Beukes was unscathed. Many others were not as fortunate. Police say the red SUV hit and killed six parade marchers and injured more than 60 along the route. Authorities charged Darrell Brooks, a 40-year-old man from Milwaukee, with more than 70 offenses, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide. Prosecutors allege Brooks was behind the wheel, entering the parade after a domestic disturbance and barreling past police officers who tried to stop the vehicle.

Initially, Brooks pled not guilty, adding later by reason of mental disease or defect. Then he dropped the insanity defense. And just last week, the trial judge granted Brooks' request to represent himself, releasing two public defenders who had been assigned. Even so, Judge Jennifer Dorow warned Brooks during a couple of contentious hearings about the challenges he would face. She said many witnesses are scheduled to testify, that there's a lot of evidence, including videos of the parade, and that Waukesha County prosecutors have a lot of resources. Here's how Brooks replied.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DARRELL BROOKS: Doesn't make me flinch one bit.

QUIRMBACH: Brooks may be confident, but Milwaukee defense lawyer Julius Kim says there are good reasons why defendants don't typically represent themselves during a homicide trial.

JULIUS KIM: What it comes down to is that by not being an attorney, Mr. Brooks is not going to know what he doesn't know. He's not going to know what questions may be objectionable or if the state asks an improper question. He's not going to know how to properly present evidence at a trial. There are also going to be some logistical issues that I think he's going to have to overcome.

QUIRMBACH: Kim says Brooks representing himself also puts extra pressure on the judge, who'll have to quickly decide what information she'll provide to the defendant. The trial is expected to last two weeks or longer. That doesn't please Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly. He says survivors of the tragedy that occurred during the Christmas parade are still trying to heal.

SHAWN REILLY: A lot of them are going to have to testify. And a lot of them who aren't even involved in the trial are going to see it in the newspapers, hear it on the radio, watch it on TV and have to listen to that person.

QUIRMBACH: The mayor and others here say that as the trial goes on, they want the victims' families to feel community support now and in the future. A citizens commission recently approved the concept for a memorial to be located in a city park.

For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach in Waukesha, Wis.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLEEP DEALER'S "THE WAY HOME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Chuck Quirmbach is a Milwaukee-based reporter who covers developments and issues in Southeastern Wisconsin that are of statewide interest. He has numerous years of experience covering state government, elections, the environment, energy, racial diversity issues, clergy abuse claims and major baseball stadium doings. He enjoys covering all topics.
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