4 takeaways from the first week of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial
The first week of testimony has come to a close in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old charged with homicide after he shot and killed two protesters at a demonstration in Kenosha, Wis., in August 2020. The protests in Kenosha began after police shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, on Aug. 23, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Multiple nights of unrest followed, with rioters destroying police cars and burning and damaging businesses. On Aug. 25, ahead of the third night of protests, Rittenhouse, then 17, drove from his home in Antioch, Ill., across the state line into Wisconsin, where he intended to "protect" businesses from unrest. He was armed with an AR-15-style rifle. In a series of confrontations with protesters there, Rittenhouse shot and killed two protesters, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and wounded a third, Gaige Grosskreutz. Rittenhouse faces seven total charges, including two counts of homicide, one reckless and one intentional, and two counts of recklessly endangering safety. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. The prosecution still has yet to wrap their case. Among the remaining witnesses is Grosskreutz, who is expected to testify Monday. The defense will take over later next week. Whether Rittenhouse himself will testify — normally common in self-defense cases — is still an open question, in part because there has been so much video evidence of the events. Closing arguments are expected by the end of the week or sometime in the week of Nov. 15. Read on for the major moments and takeaways from the trial's first week:
Pivotal testimony about the first shooting came from a video producer at a right-wing news site
Nearly three hours of testimony Thursday came from Richard McGinnis, a video producer with the right-wing news site The Daily Caller. McGinnis was in Kenosha that night covering the protests as a journalist. Rittenhouse's encounter with Rosenbaum, the first person he shot, is critical to the prosecution's efforts to characterize Rittenhouse as an initial aggressor whose reckless actions led directly to the violent confrontations that followed. But video evidence of that encounter with Rosenbaum is sparse — meaning the testimony of McGinnis, as the person who was closest to the shooting, was crucial to both sides. On the stand Thursday, McGinnis described the atmosphere that night as dangerous and menacing, in large part due to the presence of so many armed men. McGinnis had conducted an interview with Rittenhouse about 15 minutes before the first shooting, in which Rittenhouse described himself as "an adult," an EMT and a medic. "Our job is to protect this business and part of my job is to also help people. If there's somebody hurt, I'm running into harm's way. That's why I have my rifle because I can protect myself, obviously," Rittenhouse said in the video. Later, McGinnis testified, he saw Rittenhouse running toward a used car lot, holding both the rifle and a fire extinguisher. McGinnis decided to follow him, reaching for his phone to record. In the lot, Rittenhouse stopped and turned around. Rosenbaum was not armed, McGinnis said, but he continued to run toward Rittenhouse. "It was clear to me it was a situation where it was likely something dangerous was going to happen, be it Mr. Rosenbaum grabbing it or Mr. Rittenhouse shooting it," McGinnis testified. Rosenbaum lunged for the rifle, McGinnis said, and Rittenhouse dodged. As Rosenbaum's momentum was carrying him past Rittenhouse, Rittenhouse fired four times. Afterward, Rittenhouse ran away, leaving Rosenbaum laying face down on the ground, McGinnis said. When prosecutor Thomas Binger suggested it was impossible for McGinnis to know what Rosenbaum was trying to do as he lunged, McGinnis replied, "Well, he said 'f*** you' and he reached for the weapon." Prosecutors showed cell phone videos of McGinnis trying to help Rosenbaum after the shooting. In the videos, McGinnis can be seen turning Rosenbaum's body over and McGinnis taking off his own shirt to try to stem the bleeding. In testimony, he described that he felt "in danger" and "afraid" as he did so. Watching the videos as he sat on the witness stand, McGinnis appeared to grow emotional. Because McGinnis was close to the line of fire, Rittenhouse has been charged with recklessly endangering his safety with a dangerous weapon, a felony.
Two other armed men who came to Kenosha that night were also key witnesses
Prosecutors have worked to characterize Rittenhouse as a reckless aggressor whose unreasonable initial actions — namely, shooting Rosenbaum — led directly to the confrontations that followed. On Thursday and Friday, they called two witnesses who were among the self-styled "militiamen" in Kenosha that night with the intention of protecting local businesses.That included Ryan Balch, who described Rittenhouse as "a little underequipped and a little underexperienced," and a former Marine rifleman named Jason Lackowski, who was standing with Rittenhouse in the moments leading up to the shootings, armed with an AR-15. In his testimony, Lackowski described using a "shout, shove, show, shoot" philosophy that night for when he might be approached by an aggressive individual: First he would try shouting at them; if that didn't work, then he would try to shove them, then show them his weapon, then, finally, shoot his weapon. Lackowski testified that he never felt the need to progress past "shout" that night, including during his encounter with Rosenbaum shortly before Rittenhouse shot him. Rosenbaum was "acting very belligerently," Lackowski said, yelling for Lackowski to shoot him and making sudden steps toward him trying to provoke a reaction. Rather than shoot, Lackowski said he chose to turn away. "After he'd done that a few times, I turned my back to him and ignored him," he said, describing Rosenbaum as a "babbling idiot" and repeatedly testifying that he believed Rosenbaum did not pose a danger to himself or anybody else. "I really didn't see him as a threat at all, to be honest with you," said Lackowski. Defense lawyer Corey Chirafisi countered by pointing out differences between the two encounters and questioning Lackowski's memory.
Videos have played a prominent role, including never-before-seen FBI infrared footage
The events of Aug. 25, 2020, were thoroughly documented by live-streamers, reporters and photographers — a "unique benefit" for the jury, the judge said Friday. Both the prosecution and the defense have turned repeatedly to photos and videos to make their case. Defense lawyers showed a series of photos that, they said, revealed the people Rittenhouse encountered were armed, be it with guns or other objects. Prosecutors have showed many videos, several of them graphic, including the video recorded by McGinnis as he attempted to treat Rosenbaum's wound. In addition to the widely shared photos and videos, the jury also saw something new to the public: infrared footage of Rittenhouse's encounter with Rosenbaum recorded from overhead by an FBI airplane. The video appears to show that, at first, Rittenhouse was pursuing Rosenbaum into the used car lot. Rosenbaum appears to pause between two cars as Rittenhouse runs around them. Then, Rosenbaum appears to chase Rittenhouse before Rittenhouse stops and shoots him. The defense is also expected to rely on video evidence — so much so that they may not call Rittenhouse to the stand, which would be relatively unusual for a self-defense case, according to Jessa Nicholson Goetz, a Wisconsin criminal defense attorney who is not involved in the case. "It's usually the testimony that establishes that self-defense is an issue," she said. "Normally, there isn't all of this video footage."
The judge is not taking risks with the jury and public confidence
On Thursday, Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed one of the 20 jurors for making a joke about Jacob Blake, whose shooting by police triggered the protests. "The public needs to be confident that this is a fair trial," Schroeder said. The juror, an older white man, was being escorted to his car on Wednesday evening by a court police officer when he told the joke. The officer then reported the joke to the court. "It was my understanding it was something along the lines of, 'Why did the Kenosha police shoot Jacob Blake seven times?' " said prosecutor Thomas Binger. "It's my understanding that the rest of the joke is: 'Because they ran out of bullets.' ""It's clear that the appearance of bias is present, and it would seriously undermine the outcome of the case," Schroeder said as he dismissed the juror.Schroeder, who is currently the longest-serving judge in Wisconsin, has drawn public attention already during the case, in part due to his pretrial decision that prosecutors could not refer to those killed by Rittenhouse as "victims," while the defense lawyers may call them "rioters" or "looters.""He's got strong opinions on how he conducts his courtroom, sometimes differently than other people do," said Janine Geske, a retired Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who's also a law professor at Marquette University,in an interview with NPR. "But he's knowledgeable, and he has a lot of experience. And you don't mess around in his courtroom." Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.