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Darrell Brooks sentencing, shooting threat interrupts courtroom

An ambiguous 'threat' was made, causing the courthouse to be evacuated Tuesday morning, sheriff says.
Christmas-Parade-SUV
Posted at 7:54 AM, Nov 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-15 19:49:03-05

WAUKESHA, Wis. — The sentencing for Darrell Brooks, the man convicted in the Waukesha Parade attack, began Tuesday until a threat of a mass shooting halted proceedings, the sheriff's department says.

More than 40 people delivered verbal victim impact statements in-person to the court on Tuesday. Around half a dozen of those were children under the age of 18. They were not shown on camera per court order.

The victims and family members speaking were organized into four groups. The state had just gotten through the first group when the court suddenly took a recess. The Waukesha County Sheriff's Department later said they received a phone call from an unknown person who threatened a mass shooting inside the courthouse on Tuesday.

Sheriff's officials tell TMJ4 News they don't believe it to be a swatting incident and are investigating. Judge Jennifer Dorow said they resumed sentencing after the sheriff assured her "that the building is quite safe," and that he had taken "all reasonable measures to secure the courthouse."

David Sorenson, his sons Marshall and Sean Sorenson, and his granddaughter were among many family members who spoke about how their lives have been irreparably damaged. David Sorenson's wife, Virginia "Ginny" Sorenson, was one of the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies killed in the parade.

WATCH: Ginny Sorenson's son delivers impact statement at Darrell Brooks sentencing

Ginny Sorenson's son delivers impact statement at Darrell Brooks sentencing

"I will continue to struggle with the loss. I am lucky to have family care for me and wrap me in love so that I can start to glue together the shattered life I now have," said Sorenson.

The children of Jane Kulich, another mother killed in the parade, mourned her loss and the loss of any future they could've had together.

"She won't get to see me say my vows or get married to the love of my life," said Jane's daughter Alisha Kulich. "And she won't ever get to see my future kids, and they won't know what it's like to have a grandma who spoils them."

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A handful of speakers said they were willing to forgive Brooks. Many said they never would. But one theme was consistent among those who spoke — everyone asked Judge Dorow to hand down the maximum sentence for each count.

"I ask you to send this evil animal to life in prison with no chance for parole for the callous murder of my wife," said Sorenson.

WATCH: Husband of Dancing Granny killed in parade: 'You are a very, very evil animal.'

Husband of Dancing Granny killed in parade: 'You are a very, very evil animal.'

In late October, a jury found Brooks guilty of 76 criminal counts, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and 61 counts of recklessly endangering safety. Each homicide count carries a mandatory life sentence in Wisconsin, while each endangerment count carries a maximum sentence of 17.5 years.

District Attorney Sue Opper asked the judge to impose all six mandatory life sentences without the possibility for parole as well as an additional 859 years facing Brooks.

Court resumes on Wednesday at 12 p.m. From that time, Brooks' family and friends will have an opportunity to speak on his behalf. His mother and grandmother have told TMJ4 News that they plan to give remarks via Zoom.

LATEST UPDATES FROM THE DARRELL BROOKS SENTENCING: TUESDAY, NOV. 15

5:55 p.m. update:

Court wraps for the day. Court will resume Wednesday at noon. Darrell Brooks' family and supporters will have a chance to speak. Brooks' grandmother said she is not sure if she will be able to speak on his behalf anymore after previously sharing her sentencing statement.

RELATED: Darrell Brooks' grandmother shares statement she will read during sentencing

Mary Edwards says she is conflicted after Tuesday's hearing. She said, if Brooks is unable to apologize and "show some regret" after hearing victims' statements, it would go against her own beliefs. She said she will pray and sleep on it.

3:09 p.m. update:

Families of victims of the parade attack are giving their victim statements in front of Darrell Brooks.

WATCH: Daughter of Waukesha Parade victim: 'I can't wait for the day I hear you're dead in prison'

Daughter of Waukesha Parade victim:'I can't wait for the day I hear you're dead in prison'

1:19 p.m. update:

WAUKESHA, Wis. — Darrell Brooks' sentencing hearing was disrupted Tuesday after the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department said someone threatened a mass shooting at the courthouse.

Officials said the Waukesha County Communications Center received the call around 9:40 a.m.

"It does not appear to be a swatting but it currently under investigation by the Waukesha Sheriff and FBI," the sheriff's department tells TMJ4 News.

After receiving the threat, proceedings were halted in the Darrell Brooks case and Judge Jennifer Dorow called for a recess. Brooks was in court for sentencing.

Proceedings continued after an hour when Judge Dorow said the sheriff's office assured her the building was safe.

The Waukesha County Sheriff's Office said it increased security in the building and on the grounds.

The threat is now under investigation by the Sheriff's Office, Waukesha Police Department, and FBI. Officials said anyone visiting the courthouse should anticipate increased time for security checks.

11:49 a.m. update:

Tyler Pudleiner spoke Tuesday. He's been very posited down the stretch of the trial, sitting in court every day and speaking after conviction. He thanked Judge Dorow for her work. "I want to acknowledge your sainthood," he said.

11:21 a.m. update:

The sentencing hearing has resumed. The judge says the sheriff's department's communication center received a threat to the courthouse. "The sheriff has assured me this building is quite safe ... at this time, I am not going to stop these proceedings. We will continue." The delay lasted more than an hour.

11:01 a.m. update:

There are now at least two officers appearing to be SWAT with tactical gear inside the courthouse, our sister network CourtTV reports. Sources confirmed to them law enforcement received "threats" causing an abrupt pause.

11 a.m. update:

The sheriff's department won't comment further on the threat for now. But the media rep for the Brooks' trial says they're expected to resume shortly.

10:53 a.m. update:

The court tells TMJ4 they will be resuming the hearing shortly. Unclear if Judge Dorow, media liaison says, will address specifics of what’s going on.

10:45 a.m. update:

The Waukesha County Sheriff's Department confirms an anonymous threat was made regarding courthouse safety. They're now investigating. We're seeing an increase in security around the building.

10:27 a.m. update:

The Waukesha County Sheriff's Office said some "threats" came into the courthouse, causing the recess. An officer told TMJ4's Bruce Harrison that everyone inside is safe.

WATCH: Brooks courtroom cleared due to 'threats'

Brooks courtroom cleared due to 'threats'

10:12 a.m.

Court has entered an abrupt 30-minute recess. DA Sue Opper appeared to have noticed something. A bailiff ran to the front of court and whispered to the judge.

It all happened right after Jenn Dunn with victims' assistance read a statement on behalf of a child.

9:58 a.m.

The first group of speakers has wrapped. Many spoke about losing work, living with fear, and being afraid to cross the street.

Some said they have healed physically but not mentally. They said justice in court will only bring so much healing. Jackson Sparks' mother said after the sentencing, her family will attempt to adjust to a new normal.

The second group has begun.

RECAP OF THE DARRELL BROOKS TRIAL:

A jury convicted 40-year-old Brooks with 76 charges, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and 61 counts of recklessly endangering safety. Each homicide count carries a mandatory life sentence in Wisconsin, while each endangerment count carries a maximum sentence of 17.5 years.

RELATED CONTENT: Darrell Brooks' grandmother shares statement she will read during sentencing

During the trial, prosecutors argued Brooks turned his red SUV into the parade on Nov. 21, 2021 after fleeing a fight with his ex-girlfriend. That's despite warnings from police to stop and officers opening fire on him, though no squad cars were pursuing him at the time.

Six people were killed in the parade attack. The victims are 8-year-old boy Jackson Sparks, who was walking with his baseball team in the parade; Leanna Owen, Virginia Sorenson and Tamara Durand, who were members of the Dancing Grannies performing during the parade; Wilhelm Hospel, husband to a surviving Dancing Grannies member; and Jane Kulich, who was attending the parade.

Dozens of others suffered injuries, including some severe.

RELATED CONTENT: Darrell Brooks' sentencing: Hearing about victims, not defendant, says criminal defense attorney

The attack hit home for the city of 70,000 people just west of Milwaukee. Residents built memorials for those who had died in the attack. The community rallied around the slogan, "Waukesha Strong." A local fundraiser meanwhile raised millions of dollars for the victims and their families.

Brooks, 40 years old, at first pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease, which would have carried a sentence in a mental institution instead of prison. Just before the trial was about to begin, though, Brooks withdrew that plea, fired his public defenders and urged Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow to let him represent himself in his own trial, which she allowed.

During closing arguments, Waukesha County District Attorney Susan Opper argued that Brooks' failure to stop before hitting people in the parade shows he intended to kill them.

After about three hours of deliberations, the jury delivered the convictions on Oct. 26 after a roughly two-week trial.

Tyler Pudleiner, who performed with the Waukesha South High School band when he was hit by Brooks' SUV, previously told reporters that the convictions will help all the victims heal, the Associated Press reported at the time. “One of the things that I’ve said throughout this is we’re stronger than (Brooks), and it’s been proven today,” Pudleiner said.

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