WAUKESHA, Wis. — A former Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge says the Waukesha parade attack trial was long for a homicide case, but certain steps had to be taken even though they delayed proceedings.
Judge Mary Kuhnmuench spent 21 years on the circuit court, 11 of those presiding over criminal cases, including sexual assaults and homicides.
She’s seen her share of difficult defendants, she said, even ones like Darrell Brooks. On Wednesday, a jury in Waukesha convicted him on 76 counts, including six of intentional homicide, for driving through the Waukesha Christmas Parade last November.
“He was on the higher end of very difficult defendants,” said Kuhnmuench.
During the 18-day trial in Judge Jennifer Dorow’s courtroom, Brooks yelled, took off his shirt, and stared angrily at Dorow. “The classic defense stare down,” Kuhnmuench called it, adding many judges are familiar.
But Dorow didn’t react to Brooks. Instead, she took breaks. A lot of them. Kuhnmuench said it was all part of a strategy, albeit one that ate up a lot of time.
“You have to get up, take multiple breaks, make sure your staff is taking multiple breaks. So you can be clearheaded and not make a rush to judgement that could cause an issue on appeal,” said Kuhnmuench.
The former judge said it’s the best way to ensure you’re creating a “bulletproof” record that can stand any appeal. Brooks indicated throughout the trial that he would appeal based on various motions he challenged in front of the judge.
Kuhnmuench said in dealing with a defendant like Brooks, it requires patience and experience. And although the judge may appear dispassionate or neutral, a multiple homicide trial like the Brooks case takes a toll on a judge.
“Significant. Significant [toll]. You are a human being first. You’re listening to some very difficult things. The deaths, very traumatic deaths of other human beings,” said Kuhnmuench.
Brooks’ bad behavior, his choice to represent himself and the scope of the charges all made for a long trial. But Kuhnmuench said Judge Dorow knew that any mistakes would ultimately fall back on the victims.
“You think about the difficulty of the families, of the victims that have to go through this once. And now because of an error you made in the rush of the events of the trial, that is now being reversed and sent back down for a retrial,” said Kuhnmuench.
Kuhnmuench called Dorow’s handling of Brooks’ behavior and record-keeping “masterful.”
On Monday, court will reconvene to schedule sentencing, a process that will include victim impact statements.