WAUKESHA – Darrell Brooks Jr., the man accused of killing six people and injuring dozens of others in the 2021 Waukesha Christmas Parade, will try to establish that he was not mentally competent when reportedly he drove through the crowd.
The only hitch, discussed at a hearing Tuesday, was which mental health doctor should evaluate him as part of a process tied to his plea of not guilty by reason of mental defect, commonly called an insanity plea.
As it turns out, three doctors will each do the job independently.
The defense attorneys for the 40-year-old Milwaukee man announced the plea change during a June 20 change of venue hearing in Waukesha County Circuit Court. As part of that plea, Brooks will have to be examined to provide the court and all attorneys with expert information on his mental state.
But Brooks’ attorneys and the Waukesha County District Attorney’s Office had struggled to determine who should conduct the examination, a matter which became more urgent after Brooks recently declined a visit at the Waukesha County Jail from the doctor initially appointed by the court.
Dr. Deborah Collins, who had been on retainer with the district attorney’s office, was appointed in a written order June 21. When Collins tried to meet with Brooks in the Waukesha County Jail, she reported that he declined, saying he first wanted to discuss her role with his attorneys.
The problem was that the state had initially contacted Collins to provide a report before she was subsequently appointed by the court. That didn’t sit well with defense attorneys Jeremy Perri and Anna Kees, who said the initial financial offer from the state created a conflict and disqualified Collins for the court-ordered role.
As an alternative, the defense had requested Dr. Melissa Westendorf, who works in the same office as Collins. The misunderstanding, and the defense request for Waukesha County Circuit Judge Jennifer Dorow to clarify and reconsider who the court should appoint, was the basis for Tuesday’s hearing.
While not stating outright that Collins could be legally disqualified under state law to serve in the court-appointed role, Dorow acknowledged how the situation might be troublesome.
“It’s problematic,” Dorow said. “I completely respect (the state) wanting to retain an expert in this case and for this issue, but I want to err on the side of caution.”
In Collins’ place, Dorow appointed two doctors, Christopher Tyre and John Pankiewicz, to examine Brooks on behalf of the court to see if he qualifies for the insanity defense. Collins will be retained by the state to serve a similar role.
Brooks’ plea change from “not guilty” to “not guilty by reason of mental defect” came at the tail end of the June 20 hearing, the primary focus of which was for a ruling on the defense request for a change of venue for the trial. Dorow ruled against that request.
Dorow also earlier ruled that the trial date, scheduled to begin Oct. 3 and span four weeks, will not be delayed.
Any reports from experts, including those from mental health doctors evaluating Brooks, must be filed by Aug. 19 to comply with the court’s mandated schedule.
Because of the sheer number of victims and witnesses, the court also ordered a special process of screening jurors through a 19-page questionnaire, totaling 100 questions, to assure they have no direct connections to those who might testify or have had contact with in recent months.
Brooks is charged with 83 criminal counts, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide with use of a dangerous weapon (his vehicle), 61 counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety with use of a dangerous weapon, six counts of hit and run involving death, and six counts of homicide by vehicle involving the use of a controlled substance.
All charges stem from the Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy on Nov. 21, when Brooks is accused of driving past police blockades and striking parade participants, seemingly at random.
Brooks remains in the Waukesha County Jail on a $5 million bail.
Contact Jim Riccioli at (262) 446-6635 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jariccioli.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Darrell Brooks Jr. pleads insanity in Waukesha Christmas Parade attack