Brooke Found Guilty on 6 of 7 Counts, Including Conspiracy to Commit Armed Robbery

John Brooke is escorted back to the Starke County jail after testimony is heard in his jury trial

The courtroom was full of family and friends of John Brooke as the jury returned to the courtroom with their verdict. The judge read their decision, his face calm, revealing nothing. As he began reading the verdict aloud, family members burst into tears while Brooke remained calm and collected, even in the face of the seriousness of the charges.

The jury found Brooke guilty of six of the seven counts against him: Conspiracy to Commit Armed Robbery, Intimidation, Possession and Manufacturing of a Destructive Device, Resisting Law Enforcement, Unlawful Use of Body Armor, and Assisting a Criminal. The jury found him not guilty of the count of Possession of a Destructive Device.

“Well, I’m disappointed, but I respect the reasoned decision of the jurors. It was a jury of his peers, we had a very deliberate and detailed jury selection process. It took us nearly a day to select this jury, and that’s the way the criminal justice system works. It generally nets out justice, and apparently it did today,” said Brooke’s defense attorney, Dale Allen.

Earlier that morning, the trial was still in progress. The defense called Kimberly Hitchens to the stand. Hitchens was renting the Summerholme house at which the incident took place and had plead guilty to Assisting a Criminal earlier in April. Hitchens recounted the events of the day prior to the shootout, stating that she, Brooke, Jim Reed, and Ashley Hardison had been drinking and smoking marijuana when Mike Drogosz, who had not been drinking, started discussing how he would rob a bank. According to Hitchens, the others chimed in with ideas, but these ideas were just drunk, nonsensical talk with no substance whatsoever, and the legal pad of “plans” were just sketches. She claimed that at one point, after everyone had been drinking, Drogosz had brought it to their attention that he was wanted by the law. At this point, Hitchens stated that she told Brooke that Drogosz could no longer stay with them, but since they had been drinking, they could not give him a ride that night, so it was decided they would take him home after Brooke returned from work the next day.

Hitchens then stated that the next day, before Brooke returned home from work, police arrived at the residence to arrest Drogosz. When the officer first asked if Drogosz was in the home, Hitchens said that he was not, but the officer asked her again and she admitted that he was. She was placed in a police cruiser as the officer got on a megaphone and began calling Drogosz out of the home. Hitchens said that at this point, Reed exited the home and was also placed in custody. Drogosz was still in the home, but Hitchens said she then saw Brooke approaching the home, carrying his gun by its strap in his left hand, pointed at the ground; Brooke was immediately swarmed by police, then handcuffed and placed in a vehicle near Hitchens’ location.

At this point, Hitchens said, the shooting started. While bullets were flying between police and Drogosz, Kim said she saw Brooke escape from the squad car, run toward the house, grab one of his dogs, and returned to the backseat of the police vehicle.  At this point, Hitchens stated a bullet flew through the car in which she was sitting, so police cleared a path for her to escape the gunfire to a neighbor’s house.

The Prosecution cross-examined Hitchens, asking her if she had told this story to law enforcement before. Hitchens said she had. In addition to other inconsistencies in the story, the prosecutor asked her why she, in her original statement to Detective Lawson, had said that Hardison had not been at the home the day prior to the incident. Hitchens replied, saying she did not want to get her involved.  The prosecutor also stated that Hitchens had originally said, in a statement given to police, that she had no idea Drogosz was wanted by police, but in this recap of the night, Drogosz told them about his problem with the law. Hitchens was then reminded that she had originally stated that she drew the sketches of the locations of banks because Drogosz had wanted a bank account, but in this story she admitted that the sketches were involved in a plan for a bank robbery.

The state then noted that in the statement of Lawrence Fuka, Hitchens’ grandfather, he had said that he saw Brooke approaching the house from a different direction, carrying the weapon in a different manner.  The prosecutor also mentioned a letter that Hitchens had written to the prosecuting attorney at the time, Julianne Havens. Hitchens said she had written the letter to try to get lenience, as she was trying to get house arrest before trial.  The state read an excerpt from the letter, in which Hitchens wrote she had no idea Drogosz was a wanted felon. The state said that, according to her present statement, this was a lie, as she had known one day prior to the incident.

The Prosecution then called Detective Ronald Lawson back to the stand. Lawson played three interviews with Hitchens, in which she gave different versions of the day of, and the night prior to, the incident. In the first interview, she stated that she and John had run into Drogosz while in town, and he mentioned he needed a place to stay. In the second interview, she stated that John had actually picked him up from Chicago.

In her statement during the trial, Hitchens had stated that Brooke made the Molotov cocktails, used to burn garbage, the day prior to the incident. In her statement given to police nine days after the incident, she stated that Brooke had made the Molotov cocktails a few weeks prior to the incident.  She also stated that Hardison had not come over to the house, but her statement during the trial conflicted with this.

Lawson was excused from the stand, and the state began presenting its final arguments. In the state’s final argument, they stressed the fact that each time the individuals were interviewed, their stories would change. The prosecutor stated that “They told so many lies they couldn’t keep them straight,” and “At this point, I’m not even sure they know what the truth is.” He said that in their original statements, Drogosz was a “good guy,” and they said that did not know he was wanted. However, in their later statements, they admitted they knew, but Drogosz was scary and they were afraid of retaliation.

The prosecutor stated that he believes Brooke had a change of heart when he was approaching the house carrying his rifle with a bulletproof vest. He stated that there was a moment of truth when Officer Fred Baker turned around and saw him, but Brooke couldn’t kill an officer.  The prosecutor said that just because Brooke did not kill, does not make him innocent, and he should be held accountable for his acts of conspiracy.

The defense was then able to give its final argument. Allen stated that Brooke had an epiphany when he arrived on the scene, and Brooke did not resist law enforcement, did not draw his weapon. He even had the chance to escape, and didn’t take it. Instead, he did the right thing and tried to save his animals from the gunfire.

Allen stated that the bank heist “plan” made no sense. The individuals did not stake out banks, and no one acted on the plan whatsoever. He also reminded the jury that the Molotov cocktails were used by Brooke to burn garbage, not to commit criminal acts. He stated that the charge of intimidation had no grounds, because there is no evidence that John drew his weapon on police, as the witnesses stated that he had approached police carrying it either by the strap, or the barrel, both in nonthreatening manners. He also stated that the charge of intimidation had no proof, because, again, he did not draw a weapon. Allen said that the charge of Unlawful Use of Body Armor had no backing, because if there’s no evidence for intimidation or resistance, then there are no grounds for this charge. He reminded the jury that Brooke has always been a collector of these items, all legal, with the exception of the machine gun that the defense stated Drogosz had brought from Chicago.

The state was then able to finish its final argument, stating that Brooke didn’t escape because he was handcuffed and on foot. The prosecutor said that when Brooke realized he couldn’t kill an officer, how would he explain it? The prosecutor claimed that Brooke said he was trying to save his dogs because it would explain why he was armed with a rifle and a bulletproof vest, and he reminded the court that Officers Dulin and Lawson both testified that the gun was drawn and that Brooke refused to drop it.

The state then ended its final argument, and the jury was released to deliberate and return their verdict.

“Well, as a former prosecutor in Porter County, as well as a public defender, and now for a couple of decades or so being a defense lawyer as well as a personal injury lawyer, I can tell you that the criminal justice system generally works. It’s not always favorable to you or your client, but it’s the only system we have and it’s a pretty good system,” said Allen. “Obviously, I’m disappointed, because I think he’s a good kid, he was just hanging around a real less-than-stellar crowd, let’s put it that way. And, I think the fact that he owned so many weapons, and they were legally owned by the way, but he owned so many. He had an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons and whatnot. It was compelling drama for the state of Indiana. The prosecutor had a relatively easy case to try.”