KENOSHA, Wis. – After more than a year, Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenager from Illinois who has been branded by some as a law enforcement and others a reckless shooter, will stand trial on charges of murder at the Wisconsin Courthouse on Monday.
In Kenoshi, a former factory town on the shores of Lake Michigan, the trial will take place in the district court, which was the scene of demonstrations that erupted in August 2020 after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a black resident, seven times. back during arrest. For days, protesters of police violence rallied thousands of Kenosh, and rioters set fire to buildings and looted businesses, flooding police and national guards.
The third night of protests became deadly when Mr Rittenhouse, then 17, came to Kenosha with a semi-automatic rifle in military style and joined a group of people who said they were there to help maintain order on the streets . Within hours, Mr. Rittenhouse had shot dead two men and wounded a third during the clash.
Mr Rittenhouse faces six criminal charges, including first-degree manslaughter, first-degree premeditated murder and attempted first-degree premeditated murder.
The case has also become another hotbed in the country’s political rift over protests and riots that have engulfed U.S. cities in recent years in response to police violence against blacks. To some people on the left, Mr Rittenhouse looks like a happy and dangerous intruder into a meaningful protest; on the right, some see him as a hero who intended to help protect lawless streets.
“It’s a battle of narratives,” said Steven Wright, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin. “People will see this as a young man who ran into the state borders with a gun to make trouble, or people will come with the belief that he came here with a medical kit and tried to defend the law and defend the people.”
The proceedings will once again put Kenosha, a city of 100,000, in the spotlight. Since last year’s protests, many residents have demanded a broader account of race and police administration changes, including body cameras and bias training. District Attorney refused for a criminal complaint by Rusten Sheskey, a police officer who shot Mr Blake, a decision that sparked a wave of protests in January. Mr Blake, who was partially paralyzed in the shooting, moved away from Kenosh, determined never to return, his family said.
Mr Rittenhouse’s trial is set to last two to three weeks, and jury selection will begin on Monday.
Mr Rittenhouse’s lawyers will claim he acted in self-defense when he killed 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum, who the witness said reached for Mr Rittenhouse’s gun and was filmed in the video he was pursuing. As Mr Rittenhouse fled down the street, he shot two more men in pursuit, killing 26-year-old Anthony Huber, who was trying to hit Mr Rittenhouse with a skateboard, and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, a doctor from West Allis, Wis.
Mr Rittenhouse said he was in Kenosha on the night of Aug. 25 to protect businesses from destruction during police protests. “It wasn’t him who shot the robbers,” Corey Chirafisi, Mr Rittenhouse’s lawyer, said at the trial. “Sir. Rosenbaum was chasing him. That’s where the whole thing began.”
Prosecutors allege Mr. Rittenhouse was disturbing from Antioch, Ill., About a 30-minute drive from Kenosh, who intended to violently end the protests.
“The defendant came to our community,” Thomas Binger, an assistant district attorney, said during a recent pre-trial hearing on the case. “He is not a resident, he is a minor, he is outside after curfew, he is armed with illegal weapons. Why? That’s the question. “
Jurors in Kenosha County will be asked to look at the events of that night and decide whether Mr. Rittenhouse, now 18, acted reasonably when he used deadly force during the confrontation.
Under Wisconsin law, someone can legally use deadly force only if he “reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily injury to himself.” There is no “duty to withdraw” in Wisconsin before the use of force, and prosecutors will have to convince the jury that Mr. Rittenhouse’s belief was unreasonable. On an issue unrelated to self-defense, Mr. Rittenhouse also faces charges of illegal possession; minors in Wisconsin are not allowed to have firearms or carry them in public, with some exceptions for hunting.
The jury will be presented with videos and testimonies of passers-by and journalists who filmed the murders and the events that led to them.
That evening, three days after the Blaka shooting demonstrations, violence erupted in downtown Kenosha: protesters threw fireworks at police officers who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Residents dressed in camouflage and with rifles patrolled the area, explaining they came because police and National Guardsmen were heavily overrun the previous evening, allowing people to set fire to businesses and frighten city residents.
After police expelled the protesters from the park, most of them left the area and headed home. But dozens of people – including Mr Rosenbaum, whose reason for presence was unclear – remained. They gathered on nearby Sheridan Road, arguing, squabbling and setting fire to garbage cans, and nearby were other armed civilians, including Mr. Rittenhouse, who said they were there to protect businesses. Law enforcement officers in armored vehicles followed the groups without stopping them – at one point, they even offered Mr. Rittenhouse and others bottles of water.
In the moments before Mr. Rittenhouse started firing from his weapon, Mr. Rosenbaum chased him to the used car parking lot and, according to at least one witness, reached for the barrel of Mr. Rittenhouse’s rifle.
“The jury will be given this open-ended question to which it must answer: Did Rittenhouse behave reasonably or not?” said Michael O’Hear, a law professor at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee. “The answer could very much depend on who the jurors are, especially in a case like the one that has such a political undertone.”
The jury selection could be extended by a few days, and Judge Bruce Schroeder of Kenosha District Court, the longest-serving district court judge in Wisconsin, said he requested an unusually large jury with nearly 150 potential jurors.
Mary DM Fan, a law professor at the University of Washington, said the trial will focus on the definition of self-defense, but it will also be about another change, race, politics, and the role of free speech.
“Let’s be real – why is this such a polarizing case?” she said. “It’s also a referendum on very different views on the protests that have rocked this nation.”