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A Guide to the Trial of Kyle Rittenhouse

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On November 2nd, the jurors, judge, prosecutors, and defense teams met on the courthouse of the Kenosha County Circuit Panel to begin the trial of 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, in a trial that will once again steal the attention of the nation, as one of the most visible judicial sagas on the aftermath of last year’s protests over policing and race. The Kyle Rittenhouse trial, which has now entered its crucial second week, will determine if Mr. Rittenhouse should be declared guilty of murdering two protesters and injuring another during a night of protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year.

Today, the defense called Rittenhouse himself to testify in the court, with the 18-year old man breaking in tears as he underwent cross-examination at the courthouse. In his testimony, Rittenhouse said that “I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself”, while the prosecution was verbally admonished by the judge over the line of questioning they were using while cross-examining Rittenhouse.

What is Kyle Rittenhouse being charged with?

Rittenhouse’s trial revolves around his actions during a protest in Wisconsin last year on August 25th, part of the nationwide unrest following the death of George Floyd, where Mr. Rittenhouse shot and killed two individuals who were protesting in the area and injured another.

 At the time of the shooting, the city of Kenosha had been experiencing violent unrest for almost two nights, with protesters looting, burning, and damaging businesses after a video was made public of a police officer shooting Jacob Blake, an African American, seven times in the back.

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On the night of the shootings, Rittenhouse  (who lives in Illinois, not Kenosha) first shot Joseph Rosenbaum in a parking lot after someone fired a handgun to the air at the same time that Rosenabum lunged at him. In a second incident shot Anthony Huber, after Rittenhouse was being followed by a crowd and fell to the ground.

Rittenhouse was recorded in a series of videos that became viral last year, with an assault rifle near the area of the shootings with him saying “I just killed somebody”. The defendant is facing six criminal charges: first-degree intentional murder, first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree recklessly endangering safety, possession of a dangerous weapon, and attempted first-degree intentional homicide.

If convicted from the most grave charges (first-degree intentional murder) Rittenhouse could be sentenced to life in prison, however, the other charges have varied punishments with some going from nine months in prison and a fine while others would have him serve 60 years.

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The city of Kenosha suffered days of civil unrest after the shooting of Jacob Blake (EFE)

What has the prosecution and defense argued?

The state prosecution has described Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, as someone who was attracted by the ongoing chaos in Kenosha, with the led lawyer for the prosecution Thomas Binger saying during opening statements that “like moths to a flame, tourists from outside the community were drawn to the chaos here in Kenosha” and that the evidence that they would present in court would prove that the teenager was an “active shooter”.

The defense has based its case not on disputing the facts that Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum and Huber but on arguing that his actions were well within his rights of self-defense. Mark Richards, the attorney leading Rittenhouse’s defense, said during his initial statement that the case “isn’t a whodunnit” but rather if Rittenhouse had acted within the “privilege under the law of self-defense”

black lives matter
The shooting for which Rittenhouse is being charged happened in the context of the protests after the death of George Floyd (EFE)

The prosecution will be facing a tough road if they want to ensure a conviction, as Wisconsin law puts the burden of proof on the prosecution to contest, beyond a reasonable doubt,  the defendant’s claim that he acted in self-defense.  In most states is the other way around, with the defendants having to prove that their actions were reasonable.

What has happened in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial?

Both the defense and the prosecution have called a substantial number of witnesses, including Rittenhouse himself, but there has been some significant interest in the testimony of Gaige Grosskreutz, who was the third man that Rittenhouse shot.

Grosskreutz crucially admitted that during the night of August 25th he had pointed a gun at Rittenhouse as he believed that the teen was an active shooter. Grosskreutz, who is a paramedic, said that he was following the defendant through the night but that he raised his hands after Rittenhouse shot Huber. He then said that he thought Rittenhouse was loading another bullet in his rifle, and that at that moment he had to “do something to try and prevent myself of being killed”.

When crossed examined by the defense team, Grosskreutz admitted that Rittenhouse only fired after Gorsskreutz had lowered his hands and pointed his gun at Rittenhouse that the defendant shot. An admission that fits the narrative espoused by the defense, that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense.

The prosecution has had a tumultuous relationship with the judge presiding over the trial. Just today, the judge admonished the prosecution for its line of questioning towards the defendant, saying that Binger’s questioning over Rittenhouse’s post-arrest silence goes against a principle (right to remain silent) that has been basic law for over 50 years.

Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.

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