Kyle Rittenhouse: Five things you need to know ahead of 18-yr-old's homicide trial
Kyle Rittenhouse is set to face a two-week-long homicide trial starting Tuesday, November 2, after jury selection was concluded on Monday, November 1.
The 18-year-old is on trial for fatally shooting two Black Lives Matter protesters with a semi-automatic rifle at a demonstration in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020. The jury in the politically-charged case is expected to determine whether Rittenhouse acted in self-defense or was engaged in vigilantism when he used his AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle, killing two and wounding a third. Here are five things to know as opening statements begin on November 2:
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The jury pool
Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Illinois, was seen yawning and looking distracted during the all-day session at Kenosha County Courthouse on November 1. The judge finalized 20 people — 12 jurors and eight alternates — from a pool of 179 potentials. The pool of 20 constitutes 11 women and nine men, and the judge has said he would decide at the end of the trial which ones are alternates and which ones will deliberate. The court did not ask the jurors to identify their race as part of the selection process and did not immediately provide a racial breakdown of the group, according to the Daily Mail.
Rittenhouse traveled to Kenosha from his home state of Illinois during the August 2020 riots that broke out after a White Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, in the back. The then-17-year-old said he went there to protect property belonging to some friends after two nights of alleged arson, gunfire and ransacking of local businesses.
Potential charges against Rittenhouse
Rittenhouse is facing two counts of homicide, one of attempted homicide and two of recklessly endangering safety for firing his weapon near others. Meanwhile, he is also facing one count of possessing a dangerous weapon by a person under 18. Should the teenager be convicted of first-degree homicide, he could face life in prison.
Given the sharp polarization caused by the shootings, the seating of the jury moved along rather quickly. According to the Daily Mail, about a dozen potential jurors were dismissed after prosecutors deemed they had strong opinions about the case. The pool was interrogated about the involvement in the protests, their ability to be impartial, opinions on guns, as well as whether they had donated to Rittenhouse's legal defense fund. "How many of you would consider yourselves to be familiar with firearms?" Prosecutor Thomas Binger asked. "How many of you were personally affected by looting, arson, where your business was personally affected?"
According to the report, one prospective juror was dropped after she alleged she would find Rittenhouse guilty of all charges just because he was carrying an assault-style weapon. "I don't think a weapon like that should belong to the general public," the woman reportedly said. On the other hand, a couple of prospective jurors expressed concern about participating in the process owing to the political nature of the case. However, Judge Bruce Schroeder assured the candidates that precautions would be taken to ensure their safety. "My fear is walking out of any of the days of court and just wondering what we're walking out to," one potential juror stated. "What are our cars going to look like when we're going out to them? Are they going to be slashed? Are they going to be damaged? Am I going to be able to get home safe?"
Need for impartial jurors
Officials argued that the biggest hurdle was finding jurors who could commit they would set their personal feelings aside and assess the case objectively. "I want this case to reflect the greatness and fairness of Kenosha," Judge Schroeder said, stressing repeatedly that jurors must look at the case based solely on the evidence presented in the courtroom. "This is not a political trial," he cautioned. "It was mentioned by both political campaigns and the presidential campaign last year, in some instances very, very imprudently."
Judge Schroeder noted that there had been a lot of inaccurate information written by people who "don't know what you're going to know. Those of you who are selected for this jury, who are going to hear for yourselves the real evidence in this case." The judge added that Rittenhouse's constitutional right to a fair trial will come into play and that he didn't want it "to get sidetracked into other issues."
Rittenhouse, who reportedly aspired to become a police officer someday, has maintained that he went to the protest in order to protect the property that was being destroyed by rioters. During the demonstrations, Rittenhouse fatally shot 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle after the latter chased him across a parking lot shortly before midnight on August 25. Shortly after, as Rittenhouse was running down a street, he shot and killed 26-year-old Anthony Huber and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 27.
'This case has become very political'
The Associated Press noted how the case has been rather polarized. Conservatives largely view the teenager as a patriot exercising his right to self-defense as well as Second Amendment gun rights. Meanwhile, liberals have painted him as a vigilante and wannabe police who shouldn't have been armed during the riots.
"This case has become very political," Judge Schroeder told the jury pool. "It was involved in the politics of the last election year... You could go out now and read things from all across the political spectrum about this case, most of which is written by people who know nothing. I don't mean that that they are know-nothings. I mean that they don't know what you're going to know: those of you who are selected for this jury, who are going to hear for yourselves the real evidence in this case," he added.