Kyle Rittenhouse could be considered an aggressor against one of the two men he shot and killed during last summer’s riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Judge Bruce Schroeder ruled Friday.
Rittenhouse, pleading self-defense, is also facing new charges for killing another man in the Aug. 25, 2020, event, based on another ruling by Schroeder.
The rulings were in favor of what has been so far a poorly-executed prosecution, which at times has drawn the wrath of Schroeder.
In a courtroom drone video of the shooting of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney James Kraus argued Rittenhouse, then 17, started the conflict with Rosenbaum by initially raising his rifle, Reuters reported.
The jury should consider what actually happened, Schroeder ruled. “It’s the jury’s case and I think they should make the critical decisions.”
“My decision will be to submit the case to the jury with the provocation instruction and you can argue the strength or lack of strength of the evidence,” he said.
On Thursday, prosecutors had indicated they would be filing lesser charges against Rittenhouse, NPR reported.
The new charges would be added to crimes Rittenhouse was already accused of and pleaded not guilty to: the first-degree reckless homicide of Rosenbaum, first-degree intentional homicide of Anthony Huber, 26, and first-degree attempted intentional homicide for injuring Gaige Grosskreutz.
Lesser charges could save the wobbling prosecution and take off the table the prospect of life in prison for Rittenhouse, a defense attorney not involved with the case told NPR.
Will Kyle Rittenhouse be convicted of first-degree intentional homicide?
“I think the request for lesser included charges reflects an acknowledgment that their case might not be as strong with regard to the original charges and that at this point, they’re willing to give up the prospect of life imprisonment for the defendant in exchange for obtaining convictions on something,” attorney Julius Kim said.
Schroeder allowed adding of two lesser charges, Reuters said, a ruling the defense accepted.
In addition, as an example of contemporary prosecution tendencies to throw everything against the wall to see what sticks, Rittenhouse has been charged with first-degree recklessly endangering safety and with a misdemeanor charge of being a minor in possession of a firearm.
There are exceptions in that firearm law, but they’re difficult to understand, even for the judge. On Friday, Schroeder said he had spent hours trying to unravel the law’s meaning. He said the minor in possession of a firearm charge would go to the jury with an allowance by the defense to point out exceptions which might have a bearing on the case, according to Breitbart News.
Also, this week Schroeder threw out a charge of curfew violation, NPR said.
The Rittenhouse case has produced a captivating trial which, like so many things, has reflected ongoing division in the country.
To some, Rittenhouse is an example of an upstanding young man attempting to step in and provide aid to people injured in a Black Lives Matters riot destroying a portion of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
He was wise to arm himself, and convicting him in light of clear evidence of his acting in self-defense would be a travesty.
Others see Rittenhouse as a bloodthirsty vigilante, carrying a rifle to a riot and looking for trouble. Acquit him and it will be a signal to all those “white supremacists” that we hear about that they’re free to do whatever they want.
The surrounding controversy is, of course, the reason we have trials with what is supposed to be controlled presentation of evidence and testimony encased in venerable rules which, unlike many things in our current postmodern culture, were not made up last week.
Playing loose with those rules has provoked the wrath of Schroeder, scathingly rebuking the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, for violating a ruling of the judge.
Schroeder was also incensed that Binger let the jury hear that Rittenhouse had invoked his right to silence following arrest, a choice which is supposed to have no bearing on perception of guilt or innocence.
“That’s basic law. It’s been basic law in this country for 40 years, 50 years!” Schroeder drilled into Binger. “I have no idea why you would do something like that!”
The defense has suggested Binger has angled for declaration of a mistrial. That’s possible, given how the prosecution’s case has been undercut by testimony by Grosskreutz that he was shot and wounded after he had pointed a gun at Rittenhouse.
Also, there was the extremely rare defense tactic of having the defendant take the stand. As a result, Rittenhouse provided careful, measured testimony, despite at one point breaking down and sobbing as he relived memories of the shooting.
Again, there’s a division in all this — essentially between liberals and conservatives — over what the outcome of the trial will be.
And there’s an old description of a big court case — perhaps developed by vintage newspaper sensationalism — as “The Trial of the Century.”
While our century is young, maybe this is our biggest trial. Because, with the prosecution breaking the rules and the whiff of possible rioting to follow a verdict, not only is Kyle Rittenhouse on trial, but perceptions of our justice system may be, too.