Stern judge among key players in Kyle Rittenhouse trial

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Kyle Rittenhouse appears at a pretrial hearing in Kenosha Circuit Court, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, in advance of his trial which is scheduled to begin Nov. 1, in Kenosha, Wis. Rittenhouse shot three people, killing two of them, during a protest against police brutality in Kenosha in August 2020. (Mark Hertzberg/Pool Photo via AP)

Christmas Day
December 25 2021 12:00 am

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Jury selection starts Monday in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, an Illinois man accused of killing two people at a police brutality protest last year.

Rittenhouse’s trial is expected to last at least two weeks. Here’s a look at the key players:

THE DEFENDANT

Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Illinois, was 17 at the time of the shootings. He was an ardent police supporter before the incidents, serving as a youth cadet in the Grayslake Police Department and posting photos of himself brandishing a rifle above the caption “Blue Lives Matter.” He worked part-time as a YMCA lifeguard in Lindenhurst, Illinois, before he was furloughed in March 2020.

He traveled to Kenosha, which is only about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from his home, on Aug. 25 in response to a plea on social media to protect businesses during protests over the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer two days earlier. Video from the night of the shootings shows Rittenhouse on the streets with his AR-style semiautomatic rifle and a medical kit slung over his shoulder.

“People are getting injured and our job is to protect this business,” Rittenhouse told a reporter from the Daily Caller before the shootings. “And part of my job is to also help people. If there is somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way. That’s why I have my rifle.”

Rittenhouse’s attorneys say a man — Joseph Rosenbaum — chased the 5-foot-8, 150-pound Rittenhouse in an attempt to steal his gun, forcing Rittenhouse to fatally shoot him. Video that has surfaced so far doesn’t show that shooting, but it does show Rosenbaum run toward Rittenhouse and appear to throw a plastic bag at him before shots ring out and Rosenbaum lies dying on the ground. Other video shows Rittenhouse moments later shooting and killing Anthony Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz.

Rittenhouse is white, as are the three men he shot.

Prosecutors have described Rittenhouse as a vigilante and a “chaos tourist” with a violent streak. They unsuccessfully sought to introduce a pair of videos, including one that showed Rittenhouse appearing to punch a girl who was fighting his sister a couple of months before the shootings, and another in which Rittenhouse is heard commenting that he would like to shoot some men he thought were shoplifting from a pharmacy.

As conservatives rallied to Rittenhouse as a symbol of gun rights and resistance to the sometimes damaging protests that followed George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, he has seemed at times to revel in his notoriety. He posed for photos in a Wisconsin bar with members of the far right extremist group the Proud Boys, though his attorneys say there’s no evidence he was affiliated with the group before the shootings.

THE MEN RITTENHOUSE SHOT

Rosenbaum, 36, was released the day of the shootings from a Milwaukee hospital where he had been treated for a suicide attempt. It’s not clear why he was on Kenosha’s streets the night of the protests, though he had a fiancée who lived in the city. His background includes a conviction for sexual conduct with a minor in Arizona in 2002. The judge denied a defense request to argue that Rosenbaum was trying to get Rittenhouse’s rifle because, as a convicted sex offender, Rosenbaum couldn’t legally get one on his own.

Huber, 26, of nearby Silver Lake, is seen on video swinging a skateboard at Rittenhouse before he was shot. He was known around Kenosha’s skateboarding community, and his girlfriend, Hannah Gittings, said skateboarding was his life. Huber served a pair of prison stints stemming from family conflict, including choking his brother in 2012.

A great-aunt, Susan Hughes, said Huber was involved in protestsbecause he was “very upset” that a police officer had shot Blake, who was left paralyzed from the waist down.

Grosskreutz, 27, of West Allis, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of Kenosha, has said he attended several protests following Floyd’s May 2020 death. With training as a paramedic, Grosskreutz had carried medical supplies and was doing so the night of the Kenosha shootings. He was also armed with a pistol and had it in his hand when he approached Rittenhouse, who shot him in the arm.

THE JUDGE

Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder graduated from Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee in 1970 and has been on the bench since 1983. At 75, he’s the longest-serving active circuit judge in Wisconsin.

Among his highest-profile cases was the 2008 homicide trial of Mark Jensen, who was accused of poisoning and smothering his wife. Jensen was convicted, but appellate courts and the state Supreme Court ruled that Schroeder had erred by admitting as evidence a letter Jensen’s wife had given to a neighbor before her death in which she said that if anything happened to her, her husband was responsible. A new trial is set next year.

Schroeder has the reputation of being a stern judge who often hands down tough sentences. In 2018, he sentenced a woman convicted of shoplifting to tell the manager of any store she entered that she was on supervision for theft. Schroeder told the woman that “embarrassment does have a valuable place in deterring criminality.” A state appeals court threw out the sentence.

Schroeder drew attention before Rittenhouse’s trial by forbidding attorneys from referring to Rosenbaum, Huber and Grosskreutzas victims — a longstanding practice in his courtroom. But he also ruled that defense attorneys could portray the three as looters, arsonists or rioters if they could prove it.

Kenosha-based defense attorney Michael Cicchini said Schroeder won’t wilt under the intense attention expected for Rittenhouse’s trial.

“He’s protective of the right to present a defense, the right to confrontation. He’s that way for all defendants, regardless of the case. The judge in my opinion is not swayed by or interested in politics,” Cicchini said. “He’ll apply the rules even-handedly without any influence from the media.”

THE PROSECUTOR

Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, the lead prosecutor, got his law degree in 1996 from the University of Michigan. He served as a Milwaukee County prosecutor in the early 2000s and spent nine years in private practice before joining the Kenosha County district attorney’s office in 2014. He ran for district attorney in nearby Racine County as a Democrat in 2016, promising he would get tougher on heroin traffickers and help heroin users overcome their addiction to keep them out of the criminal justice system. But he lost to the Republican candidate.

Cicchini said he’s worked against Binger on several cases. He called the prosecutor “skilled” and “a hard worker.”

THE DEFENSE

Racine attorney Mark Richards is leading Rittenhouse’s defense. He’s a courtroom veteran, earning his law degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1987. He served as an assistant district attorney in Racine and Kenosha counties in the late 1980s before he opened his own firm in 1990 that specializes in criminal defense.

Richards has worked on more than 100 jury trials. He forced Racine prosecutors in 1999 to drop first-degree intentional homicide charges against Kurtis King, who was accused of strangling his cellmate at the Racine Correctional Institution, after raising questions about the guards’ credibility.

Paul Bucher, a former district attorney in Waukesha County and a one-time state attorney general candidate, said Richards is well known and respected in legal circles.

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Associated Press writer Michael Tarm in Chicago contributed to this report.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse at: https://apnews.com/hub/kyle-rittenhouse

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