Kyle Rittenhouse Jury Enters Day 4 of Deliberations

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Nov. 19, 2021, 8:08 a.m. ET

Nov. 19, 2021, 8:08 a.m. ET

By Dan Hinkel

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Supporters From Both Sides of the Rittenhouse Trial Await Verdict

Justin Blake, the uncle of Jacob Blake, whose shooting by a police officer led to civil unrest last year during which Mr. Rittenhouse shot three men, has occasionally squabbled with Mr. Rittenhouse’s supporters outside the Kenosha County Courthouse.

[Singing] “We ready. Really ready. We ready for change.” “Got 17-year-olds who run around with military guns. You have no defense. And so we’re wasting time with you, so we’re going to leave and [inaudible]. And just so you know, we’re not going to be intimidated by no damn body. So you can know we’re not going to be intimidated by no damn body.”

Justin Blake, the uncle of Jacob Blake, whose shooting by a police officer led to civil unrest last year during which Mr. Rittenhouse shot three men, has occasionally squabbled with Mr. Rittenhouse’s supporters outside the Kenosha County Courthouse.CreditCredit…Carlos Javier Ortiz for The New York Times

KENOSHA, Wis. — Only 12 people know definitively why jury deliberations in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial have lasted three days without a verdict.

But one thing is clear: The length of the deliberations is not necessarily a good or bad sign for either side, and there have been high-profile precedents for both acquittals and convictions after lengthy deliberations.

The only things jurors have made clear about their approach is that at least some of them wanted to rewatch parts of the copious video footage shown at trial and that they needed more copies of the 36 pages of jury instructions.

Juries can take days to either acquit or convict. Jurors in Minneapolis deliberated for roughly 10 hours over two days in April before convicting Derek Chauvin, a former police officer, of charges including second-degree murder for killing George Floyd.

A Florida jury weighed charges against George Zimmerman for more than 16 hours before acquitting him in 2013 of counts including second-degree murder for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin.

It took about 35 hours over nine days for jurors in California to acquit the actor Robert Blake in 2005 of murdering his wife. “You can’t read anything into it in terms of the length of the deliberations other than it’s so intensely stressful for the parties,” said Ion Meyn, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School.

Mr. Meyn noted that Mr. Rittenhouse’s defense has sought to limit the number of times jurors could rewatch videos while prosecutors argued for unlimited viewing. That makes sense, Mr. Meyn said, because his lawyers would more likely want jurors to focus on Mr. Rittenhouse’s testimony.

The defense lawyers’ best case is “if the jury believes what comes out of their client’s mouth,” Mr. Meyn said. As the hours have passed in Mr. Rittenhouse’s case, long stretches with no word from the jury have been punctuated by the parties being called back to court for notes from the jury, arguments over motions and other matters.

The time taken and the jury’s request for the video evidence suggest the panel is using an evidence-based approach that is more likely to lead to a thorough deliberation and less likely a deadlock, said Valerie Hans, a professor at Cornell Law School who has extensively studied the jury system.

Juries will sometimes take a “verdict-driven” approach in which people state their opinions early in deliberations, she said. “If you say right away, ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ you’ve made something of a public commitment” to a position that is less likely to change, Ms. Hans said.

That approach is more likely to lead to a hung jury, she added.

Mr. Rittenhouse, his family members and lawyers have holed up in a room one floor up from the courtroom where Bruce Schroeder, a Kenosha County Circuit Court judge, has been working through other cases while he waits.

Not knowing what jurors are thinking takes a toll, said John A. Birdsall, a Milwaukee-based lawyer who is not involved in Mr. Rittenhouse’s trial but has endured jury deliberations lasting up to a week.

He said he has spent those stretches trying to work on his other cases. “It’s very nerve-racking. You’re trying to parse every question that comes down to gauge where they’re at,” he said. “But, of course, it’s all just guess work.”

Nov. 19, 2021, 8:07 a.m. ET

Nov. 19, 2021, 8:07 a.m. ET

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Credit…Carlos Javier Ortiz for The New York Times

The jurors in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial are expected to begin their fourth day of deliberations on Friday morning, after already spending about 23 hours conferring behind closed doors.

The time spent so far was seen as a strikingly long deliberation, which suggests the jurors in Kenosha, Wis., might have clashed on the weighty decisions before them. The seven women and five men who are deciding Mr. Rittenhouse’s fate were allowed to take copies of the jury instructions home with them on Thursday night.

Mr. Rittenhouse, 18, is on trial for first-degree intentional homicide and other charges after fatally shooting two men and maiming another during civil unrest in Kenosha in August 2020. He faces the possibility of life in prison.

Mark Richards, a lawyer for Mr. Rittenhouse, seemed confounded by the length of the deliberations after court broke for the day on Thursday. “They’re either working to get a consensus — maybe they’re dead-even split,” Mr. Richards said of the jury as he left the courthouse.

Deliberations began on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the jurors sent notes to Judge Bruce Schroeder and requested videos so they could rewatch footage from all three shootings. On Thursday, there were few clues into the nature of their discussions, which are occurring behind closed doors in the Kenosha County Courthouse, the limestone building that was the center of demonstrations following the police shooting of Jacob Blake 15 months ago.

The length of the deliberations could be an indication of the complexity of the charges the jury must sift through. In many murder trials, jurors are asked to decide whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty of a single count. But it is a complicated picture in Mr. Rittenhouse’s case.

He faces five criminal counts: first-degree intentional homicide in the death of Anthony Huber, 26; first-degree reckless homicide in the death of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36; attempted first-degree intentional homicide in the shooting of Gaige Grosskreutz; and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment, for firing in the direction of Richie McGinniss and an unknown man.

There are high-profile precedents for both acquittals and convictions after lengthy deliberations.

The only hints into the jurors’ minds have been their requests to rewatch parts of the copious video footage shown at trial and for more copies of the jury instructions.

“You can’t read anything into it in terms of the length of the deliberations other than it’s so intensely stressful for the parties,” said Ion Meyn, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School.

Nov. 19, 2021, 8:06 a.m. ET

Nov. 19, 2021, 8:06 a.m. ET

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Credit…Pool photo by Mark Hertzberg

When Kyle Rittenhouse took the stand during his trial, one of the most intense moments of his hours of testimony came as he detailed his actions on the night of Aug. 25, 2020. Answering questions from his own lawyer, Mr. Rittenhouse at one point broke into sobs when asked to describe the circumstances that led to him fatally shooting two people and wounding a third during unrest in Kenosha, Wis.

But whether his emotional testimony will ultimately help or hurt his defense hinges on whether the jury felt he was sincere, several legal experts said.

Defendants have the right to testify at their trial, but are not required to do so. Taking the stand can be a risky gambit for a criminal defendant, in part because he or she may come off as insincere, unlikable or untrustworthy, according to Keith Findley, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School and a founder of the Wisconsin Innocence Project.

Even so, Mr. Findley said, in a case like Mr. Rittenhouse’s, “I would typically think calling the defendant to testify makes sense, especially if that testimony is needed to really convey to the jury what threats the defendant might have been perceiving at the time.”

Whether Mr. Rittenhouse’s testimony proves helpful to his defense “probably turns on how effective he is as a communicator and how sympathetic he comes across to jurors,” Mr. Findley said this month.

Julius Kim, a defense lawyer and former assistant district attorney in Milwaukee, said he thought that Mr. Rittenhouse had helped himself by testifying.

“He has clearly articulated why he did what he did,” Mr. Kim said. “But on top of that, we saw a lot of emotion from him at one point in his testimony, and I think that evoked a lot of sympathy from people and the jury.”

Such displays of emotion can be counterproductive, especially if they come off as insincere, Mr. Kim said. But they can also humanize a defendant for the jury.

“People remembered at that moment that he was 17 at the time this incident occurred, and is 18 now and a young adult,” Mr. Kim said of Mr. Rittenhouse. “And despite the horror of the situation, I think most people saw him on the stand as a kid.”

Colin Miller, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, said in an email that he was less certain that Mr. Rittenhouse’s loss of composure on the witness stand would help his case.

“If the jury thinks these were genuine tears of remorse, it could help the defense,” Mr. Miller said. “If the jury thinks these were crocodile tears, it could very much hurt the defense.”

Nov. 19, 2021, 8:06 a.m. ET

Nov. 19, 2021, 8:06 a.m. ET

By Dan Hinkel

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Credit…Pool photo by Mark Hertzberg

A self-defense claim like the one Kyle Rittenhouse has made may hinge on the question of how reasonable the defendant’s actions were in the circumstances.

On the night of Aug. 25, 2020, when Mr. Rittenhouse shot three people, two of them fatally, he was with others who, like him, said they were on the streets to protect business premises.

Prosecutors used testimony from several of those armed people to highlight how many went to Kenosha in that turbulent time and did not shoot anyone, while the defense argued that none of those people faced the peril Mr. Rittenhouse did. Here is what five of them told the court.

Mr. Black, now 20, dated Mr. Rittenhouse’s sister, and grew so close to Mr. Rittenhouse in the year before the shootings that they called each other brothers, Mr. Black testified. He faces charges for providing Mr. Rittenhouse with the semiautomatic rifle used in the shooting, and said on the stand that he was testifying for the prosecution in hope of a lighter sentence.

Mr. Black and Mr. Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, went downtown together on Aug. 25, carrying their nearly identical military-style semiautomatic rifles. Prosecutors emphasized that Mr. Black stayed on the roof of a building at one of the used car lots the two were guarding, because he thought it would be safer there than at street level, where Mr. Rittenhouse was.

An Army veteran in his early 30s who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Balch testified that he went to Kenosha armed with a pistol and with a semiautomatic rifle that he had fired 10,000 to 15,000 times before.

Mr. Balch walked with Mr. Rittenhouse on the street on Aug. 25, and testified that he watched over Mr. Rittenhouse, who he thought was “underequipped and underexperienced.”

On the stand, Mr. Balch described the first man Mr. Rittenhouse shot — Joseph Rosenbaum, 36 — as “hyperaggressive” in the hours before the shooting. Mr. Balch testified that he had heard Mr. Rosenbaum threaten to kill him, Mr. Rittenhouse and others that night, but did not see Mr. Rosenbaum hurt anyone.

A Marine Corps veteran who lives in Green Bay and knows Mr. Balch, Mr. Lackowski backed up Mr. Balch’s testimony that Mr. Rosenbaum had been belligerent, saying that Mr. Rosenbaum challenged people to shoot him in the hours before he was killed.

Mr. Lackowski testified, though, that he did not view Mr. Rosenbaum as a threat. “I turned my back to him and ignored him,” Mr. Lackowski said on the stand.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Mr. Lackowski helped tie a tourniquet around the badly wounded arm of one of the men Mr. Rittenhouse shot: Gaige Grosskreutz, who survived the episode and testified in the trial as well.

Ms. Fiedler, 56, who lives north of Milwaukee, was armed with a .380-caliber pistol and joined others guarding the used car lots. She said she hoped her gun would serve as a “deterrent.”

Like others, she testified that Mr. Rosenbaum threatened people in the period before the shooting, but she also seconded the accounts of witnesses who said they did not regard him as a serious threat to their safety.

Mr. Smith, 23, of Kenosha, testified that he had worked at the used car lots in the past, and that the owners asked him to assemble a team of people to guard the lots — a team that included Mr. Rittenhouse, Mr. Black and others.

Mr. Smith said that Mr. Rittenhouse lent him body armor and that Mr. Smith had pepper spray and a gun that shoots pepper-spray balls. As the police pushed demonstrators into the area of the car lots, he said, Mr. Balch handed him a pistol.

Nov. 17, 2021, 10:10 a.m. ET

Nov. 17, 2021, 10:10 a.m. ET

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Credit…Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Here are the five felony charges Kyle Rittenhouse faces, numbered the way they are in the amended criminal complaint, which does not list them in order of severity (the most severe is Count 4). For each of the felonies, the complaint also lists an aggravating factor that could add to the basic sentence if he is convicted.

Just before closing arguments, the trial judge, Bruce Schroeder, dismissed the sixth count in the complaint, a misdemeanor weapons-possession charge. A seventh count, failure to comply with a lawful order, was dismissed earlier.

In his instructions to the jury, Judge Schroeder said that the jurors could consider convicting Mr. Rittenhouse on lesser charges than those named in the complaint. For example, on the charge of first-degree intentional homicide, the judge said the jury had the option of finding the defendant guilty of second-degree intentional homicide or first-degree reckless homicide instead.

Count 1

Under Wisconsin law, this crime is defined as recklessly causing the death of another human being under circumstances that show utter disregard for human life. It is not necessary for prosecutors to prove intent to kill. (Charges that are generally known as murder counts in other states are called homicides under Wisconsin law.)

Mr. Rittenhouse is accused of this crime in connection with the fatal shooting of Joseph D. Rosenbaum. It is a Class B felony carrying a basic sentence of up to 60 years in prison.

Counts 2 and 3

The law defines this crime as recklessly endangering another person’s safety under circumstances that show utter disregard for human life.

Mr. Rittenhouse is charged with recklessly endangering two people who, according to the criminal complaint, had shots fired toward them but were not hit: Richard McGinnis and an unknown man seen in video of the episode.

The crime is a class F felony that carries a basic sentence of up to 12 and a half years in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, or both, for each of the two counts.

Count 4

The crime, analogous to first-degree murder in other states, is defined as causing the death of another human being with intent to kill that person or someone else, without the presence of certain mitigating circumstances specified in the law.

Mr. Rittenhouse faces this charge in connection with the fatal shooting of Anthony M. Huber. It is a Class A felony that carries a basic sentence of life in prison.

Count 5

Attempting to commit first-degree intentional homicide is a Class B felony under Wisconsin law.

Mr. Rittenhouse faces this charge in connection with the shooting of Gaige P. Grosskreutz, who was struck and wounded. It carries a basic sentence of up to 60 years in prison.

AGGRAVATING FACTOR

A provision of Wisconsin law extends the maximum sentence for crimes committed while possessing, using or threatening to use a dangerous weapon. The criminal complaint invokes this provision for all five felony counts; in each case, it could add up to five years to the prison sentence for that count, if Mr. Rittenhouse is convicted.

Correction:

An earlier version of this item listed the counts as they were numbered in the original criminal complaint; the amended complaint changed the numbering of some counts.

Nov. 17, 2021, 7:58 a.m. ET

Nov. 17, 2021, 7:58 a.m. ET

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Credit…Morry Gash/Associated Press

Kyle Rittenhouse is standing trial for the shootings of three men — two of whom died — in the immediate aftermath of demonstrations in Kenosha, Wis., on Aug. 25, 2020.

The demonstrations erupted after a Kenosha police officer had shot and wounded a Black man, Jacob Blake. The episode, captured on cellphone video, came at a time of protests across the country over the killing of George Floyd and police abuse of Black Americans.

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Credit…Adria-Joi Watkins, via Associated Press

Kenosha experienced widespread looting, arson and property destruction in the days after Mr. Blake was shot. The shootings by Mr. Rittenhouse, which he contends were committed in self-defense, occurred on the third night of protests in the city.

  • First-degree intentional homicide.

  • Attempted first-degree intentional homicide.

  • First-degree reckless homicide.

  • Reckless endangerment (two counts).

The homicide charges, equivalent to what other states call murder charges, carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. A misdemeanor weapons charge was dismissed near the end of the trial.

Mr. Rittenhouse, now 18, was 17 when the shooting took place. He lived with his mother in Antioch, Ill., just over the border from Wisconsin. His father lived in Kenosha.

Mr. Rittenhouse had worked for a time as a lifeguard in Kenosha County, and kept a military-style semiautomatic rifle in Wisconsin, which the authorities said had been bought for him by a friend.

Long before the shooting, Mr. Rittenhouse’s social media accounts were full of posts supporting the police and Blue Lives Matter. He had been a cadet in a program for young aspiring police officers.

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Credit…Carlos Javier Ortiz for The New York Times
  • Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha. He was killed.

  • Anthony Huber, 26, who lived in Kenosha County. He was killed.

  • Gaige Grosskreutz, 26 at the time, a medic from West Allis, Wis. He was shot in the arm and survived.

The trial judge has reiterated a longstanding rule that, because the question of self-defense is at issue in the trial, the people who were shot cannot be referred to as “victims” in his courtroom.

On the evening of Aug. 25, demonstrators filled Civic Center Park in downtown Kenosha, across from a barricaded courthouse defended by police officers and National Guard troops. Also present were people dressed in camouflage and carrying rifles with ammunition strapped to their chests — legal for adults in Wisconsin, an open carry state.

Some protesters threw fireworks and water bottles at police officers, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. The crowd was eventually driven out of Civic Center Park and down Sheridan Road, a main thoroughfare. By late evening, most protesters had left the area, but some remained on Sheridan Road, occasionally scuffling and arguing with several dozen people who said they were there to defend the city.

Video taken that night showed that Mr. Rittenhouse, who had joined a group of armed people who said they were there to protect businesses, was milling around on Sheridan Road and offering medical assistance to protesters. Shortly before midnight, he was chased into the parking lot of a car dealership by Mr. Rosenbaum, who had joined the crowd downtown.

A man nearby fired a handgun into the air. Just as Mr. Rittenhouse turned toward the sound of the gunfire, Mr. Rosenbaum lunged at him. Mr. Rittenhouse fired four times, shooting Mr. Rosenbaum in the head, the video shows.

Mr. Rittenhouse then fled down Sheridan Road with at least a dozen members of the crowd in pursuit. One could be heard yelling, “That’s the shooter!”

Moments later, Mr. Rittenhouse tripped and fell, and then fired at two more people who were pursuing him, Mr. Huber and Mr. Grosskreutz.

As police vehicles arrived, Mr. Rittenhouse walked toward them with his arms raised, but they drove past him, trying to reach the people who had been shot.