The judge in the Kyle Rittenhouse case indicated to attorneys Friday that despite the firestorm that has grown around the case, he will be keeping the focus on the law.
“This is not a political trial, this is not going to be a political trial,” Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder told the attorneys.
Lawyers for both the prosecution and defense said they believe they will be ready for the case to go to trial as scheduled Nov. 1.
At Friday’s hearing, Schroeder decided a series of motions from the attorneys about evidence that could be presented at trial. Both sides had reason for disappointment, with Schroeder denying motions from both the prosecution and defense.
The prosecution, led by Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, hoped to introduce evidence that Binger argued showed Rittenhouse’s mindset as a person with a propensity to take violent action in situations in which he was not directly involved, and that showed ties with the Proud Boys, an extreme right wing organization.
“This is an unusual homicide case in the sense that it is not a whodunit,” Binger said. “The question is what was (Rittenhouse’s) state of mind and whether his actions were reasonable or not.”
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Defense attorneys for Kyle Rittenhouse, shown at right, make their case during a motion hearing on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Kenosha County C…
Rittenhouse, now 18, of Antioch, Ill., was 17 when he came to Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020 during the unrest following the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha Police officer. Rittenhouse, armed with an AR-15, shot three men, killing two and severely injuring a third.
He is charged with first-degree reckless homicide for the death of Joseph Rosenbaum of Kenosha, first-degree intentional homicide for the death of Anthony Huber of Silver Lake, and attempted first-degree intentional homicide for shooting and injuring Gaige Grosskreutz of West Allis.
Rittenhouse, his attorneys and his supporters have maintained that he was acting in self-defense when he fired his weapon.
Rosenbaum's intentions discussed
As part of the discussion Friday about the motions, the attorneys described the events of the night of the shooting, with defense attorney Mark Richards saying that there is evidence that Rosenbaum had been yelling at people that he was going to kill people earlier in the night, and that he had chased Rittenhouse.
Binger described another video, this one taken with an infrared camera by an FBI fixed wing aircraft monitoring the city, that shows Rittenhouse following Rosenbaum down the street and confronting him near a parked car, with Rosenbaum then turning to chase Rittenhouse just before the shooting. Defense attorneys said they had not yet seen that video.
Kyle Rittenhouse walks into the courtroom for a motion hearing on Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, in Kenosha County Circuit Court. Prosecutors won't b…
The defense asked Schroeder to admit Rosenbaum’s past criminal history at trial, saying it was relevant to his actions the night of the shooting. Schroeder denied that motion.
At the hearing, Binger argued that Rittenhouse was a “chaos tourist” who was “drawn like a moth to the flame” to the protests and rioting that occurred in Kenosha in August.
Proud Boys connections
Prosecutors in the Rittenhouse case asked the judge allow them to admit evidence of Rittenhouse’s meetings with members of the Proud Boys — including photos taken at a Mount Pleasant tavern showing him posing with members of the group, a right-wing organization that has been involved in violent protests and counter protests round the United States.
At the hearing, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger said that the state has since learned that the men Rittenhouse met for lunch at the Pudgy’s tavern just off Highway 20 were leaders of the Proud Boys in Wisconsin. Binger said Rittenhouse also met in Miami with the national leaders of the Proud Boys.
“The defendant, I believe, was drawn to this incident because of his beliefs, which I believe are consistent with those of the Proud Boys,” Binger said.
But the defense said there is no evidence that Rittenhouse was associated with the Proud Boys or any right wing or militia group before the shooting or on the night of the shooting. Defense attorney Corey Chirafisi said the defense had an expert go through Rittenhouse’s electronic history and found no evidence of an association with or interest in the Proud Boys or other white supremacist or militia groups before the shooting.
Schroeder said he would “keep the door open a small amount” to admitting that evidence if the state can prove that Rittenhouse had association with the group on the night of the shooting, but indicated that that was unlikely.
Other videos dismissed as evidence
Schroeder also denied the state’s request to admit a video that showed Rittenhouse punching a girl who had been fighting with his sister on Kenosha’s lakefront several months before the shooting. And while he didn’t make a final decision on the issue, Schroeder indicated he was unlikely to admit another video, one taken 15 days before the Kenosha shootings that shows people running from a drug store and loading items in a trunk. In the video, the voice of a person prosecutors say is Rittenhouse says, “Bro, I wish I had my (expletive) AR, I’d start shooting rounds at them.”
At Friday’s hearing, the defense acknowledged that Rittenhouse was speaking, although he cannot be seen on the video, but argued that the events are completely dissimilar and is irrelevant to Rittenhouse’s actions the night of the shooting during the rioting in Kenosha.
“That video doesn’t show anything, he didn’t have a gun, he was sitting in a vehicle having a conversation with someone, he never made contact with those people. If you watch the video they don’t even know he’s there,” Chirafisi said. “He doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t open his window. He doesn’t honk his horn. He doesn’t insert himself (into the situation). He could have, but he didn’t.”
Binger said the video shows Rittenhouse’s mindset. “This is giving the jury an honest insight into the defendant's state of mind. This is information the jury should have in making those decisions, they drive to hear the truth of what the defendant is thinking.”
Again Schroeder said he was not making a final decision, but said he felt that the incidents were too dissimilar for the video to be admitted.
The two sides are next scheduled to meet Oct. 5 at a hearing to determine whether a defense use-of-force expert will be allowed to testify at trial.