Jurors at the Kyle Rittenhouse trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin, will be allowed to review some videos, the judge ruled Wednesday, but the jurors’ question on the second day of deliberations sparked debate over a drone video the defense says was altered.
The 12 jurors weighing whether Rittenhouse was guilty of homicide or acted in self-defense in a shooting during police brutality protests in 2020 asked Judge Bruce Schroeder how and where they could view video evidence from the trial.
After reviewing arguments from both sides about the case law, which Schroeder commented did not respect jurors’ intelligence, he decided to allow the jury to view three videos they requested on a laptop.
Both sides previously said they were concerned about the jury not viewing the videos in the courtroom and limiting the number of times the videos could be viewed because of prior case law. However, the prosecution said Wednesday in reviewing the cases, they were concerning videos of statements, not videos of an incident.
Rittenhouse’s defense lawyers, who have asked the judge to throw out the case on grounds the prosecutors have mishandled it in several ways, raised concerns around a drone video, which the jury has not yet request to view during their deliberations but saw during trial.
The drone video was central to the prosecution’s claim that Rittenhouse provoked the shootings by raising his firearm, but the defense says the copy they received in the middle of the trial was compressed, thereby lowering its quality.
Assistant District Attorney James Kraus disputed that he altered the video in any way, saying if the video was compressed, it had to be because of software issues when a detective emailed the video.
Schroeder said he would wait and see whether the jurors request it, but that allowing them to view it would require additional testimony under oath from the lawyers themselves and experts on how the video could have, if at all, been altered when transferred to the defense.
Rittenhouse, 18, is charged with the first-degree intentional homicide of Anthony Huber, first-degree reckless homicide of Joseph Rosenbaum and attempted first-degree intentional homicide of Gaige Grosskreutz. He also faces two reckless endangerment charges, and the jury can consider some lesser included charges on certain counts.
He would face a mandatory life sentence if convicted of the most serious charge.
The trial pitted two competing narratives of the night of Aug. 25, 2020, against each other. Rittenhouse’s defense lawyers said Rittenhouse, 17 at the time, was in Kenosha to help the community after nights of protest and killed two men and wounded another in self-defense. Prosecutors say the teenager was looking for trouble, armed with an AR-15 style rifle, and provoked the attacks, thereby losing any right to self-defense.
The protests were taking place after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, multiple times. Blake survived but was paralyzed from the waist down. The officer was cleared of any state or federal violations.
‘Hot spots of division’: Rittenhouse case, Arbery death trial reflect deepening political and racial divides
Judge blasts media over stories about no ruling on mistrial
After receiving the juror question over viewing video evidence, Schroeder commented on media stories that noted he had not yet ruled on the mistrial motion from the defense.
Rittenhouse’s lawyers asked during the trial and again in writing for a mistrial with prejudice, meaning Rittenhouse could not be retired.
In addition to drone video allegations, the defense said Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger commented on Rittenhouse’s right to remain silent and tried to introduce evidence Schroeder did not allow in the trial.
Binger said his comments merely reflected that Rittenhouse might be able to tailor his testimony to the days of trial he had been hearing and that he thought Schroeder had not issued a final ruling on the evidence he started to bring up.
Schroeder admonished him, yelling at the prosecutor with the jury out of the room but not ruling on the motion.
Schroeder said Wednesday he hadn’t yet read the motion and only heard partial oral arguments in court.
A story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network, included comments from legal experts who called the lack of a ruling “odd.”
“The only reason I can think of for waiting is perhaps he wants to give the jury a chance to acquit so he doesn’t have to, but that’s speculation on my part,” said Keith Findley, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School.
“I’m not sure why the judge has waited to rule,” said Michael O’Hear, professor of criminal law at Marquette Law School. “It seems unlikely to me that he would have turned the case over to the jury if he expected to grant the mistrial.”
Schroeder also blasted other coverage of him in the trial, including allow Rittenhouse to draw the alternate jurors numbers.
Jury asks for extra copies of instructions; Rittenhouse draws numbers from tumbler
The jury asked no questions of Schroeder during their first day of deliberations Tuesday beyond requests for additional copies of their juror instructions.
Included in those instructions are the legal requirements the prosecution must meet to prove each charge and whether Rittenhouse provoked the shootings as well as the requirements the defense must meet to prove self-defense.
Schroeder briefly raised eyebrows Tuesday when he allowed Rittenhouse to draw numbers from a tumbler to select the six alternates and set the final 12 jurors. The alternates will remain at the courthouse in case they are needed.
Schroeder said he has allowed defendants to perform such a move for the last 20 years. While not illegal or unethical, the task is usually reserved for the clerk of courts, said Ion Meyn, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School.
The jury consists of five males and seven females and 11 white people and one person of color. The six alternates are an even split of white males and females.
Deliberations ran from around 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. Schroeder said he would let jurors decide how late they wanted to stay.
How much prison time could Rittenhouse face?
If convicted of first-degree intentional homicide in Huber’s death, Rittenhouse would face a mandatory life sentence. The modifier of “use of a dangerous weapon” in the charge carries an additional five years of prison time.
Lesser charges the jury can consider are second-degree intentional homicide and first-degree reckless homicide, which both carry up to 60 years in prison.
The first-degree reckless homicide in Rosenbaum’s death carries up to 60 years in prison, plus five additional years for the “use of a dangerous weapon” modifier.
If convicted of attempted first-degree intentional homicide of Grosskreutz, Rittenhouse would face up to 60 years in prison, plus five years for the same weapon modifier.
The lesser charges the jury can consider are attempted second-degree intentional homicide and first-degree reckless endangerment charges, punishable by up to 30 years and up to 12½ years, respectively.
Each count of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, connected to the unidentified man and the Daily Caller reporter, carries up to 12½ years in prison, plus a five-year weapon modifier.
National Guard on standby as Kenosha waits on verdict
In anticipation of the potential for violence after a verdict, Gov. Tony Evers sent about 500 Wisconsin National Guard troops to the Kenosha area to be on standby.
The troops would help the “hundreds of officers from volunteering law enforcement agencies” if they need assistance in case of unrest, according to Evers’ office.
Groups of demonstrators were outside the courthouse Tuesday as they waited on word from the jury. Those protesting chanted, “no justice, no peace” and held up signs.
“As of now, we really don’t have a lot of intel suggesting we’re going to have an issue down here,” said Sgt. David Wright, spokesperson for the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department. “We’ve been working in contact with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to ensure the safety of our community.”
Wright noted Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth neither declared an emergency nor requested the National Guard.
“I’m sure it will be very nice to have that in place if we do need it,” Wright said. “But we’re not anticipating to have any issues down here. Everyone who has been down here has been very cordial and not really showing any signs of aggression or anything like that.”
Rittenhouse trial: Demonstrations while jury deliberated
Demonstrators gathered outside the Kenosha County Courthouse in Wisconsin, while jurors deliberate in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse.
Staff video, USA TODAY
Closing arguments: Helping community or active shooter?
In their closing arguments Monday, lawyers summarized how they saw the facts of the case and made their final pitch to jurors as to how to rule.
Prosecutors said Rittenhouse had no business being in Kenosha that night. He brought a gun to “a fistfight” and created an active shooter situation, Binger said. Even if he did fear for his safety, he should have exhausted all other options, like running or fighting without firing his gun before he shot the men, Binger added.
“The defendant wants you to believe because he’s the one who brought the gun, he’s allowed to kill,” Binger said.
‘Wannabe soldier’ vs. attacked by ‘mob’: Prosecutors, defense make final arguments in Kyle Rittenhouse trial
Defense lawyer Mark Richards painted Rittenhouse as a teen in the community where his father lived trying to help others. Richards focused on Rosenbaum as the catalyst of the night’s tragedies and said Rittenhouse faced a mob attacking him.
“I’m glad he shot him, because if Joseph Rosenbaum had got that gun, I don’t for a minute believe he wouldn’t have used it against somebody else. He was irrational and crazy,” Richards said.
“The only imminent danger that night was Kyle Rittenhouse,” Kraus told jurors during the state’s rebuttal.
Contributing: Molly Beck and Elliot Hughes, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; The Associated Press