KENOSHA, Wis. – Jurors in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial went home for the evening Thursday and will gather for a fourth day on Friday to try to reach a verdict in the shooting case.
The deliberations are happening as the judge considers whether to declare a mistrial over a key piece of evidence in the prosecution’s case – a drone video that shows Rittenhouse fatally shooting the first man he fired at on the night of Aug. 25, 2020. The footage, both prosecutors and the defense agree, was given to Rittenhouse’s team in a lower quality format than what was presented during the trial by the state.
Rittenhouse, 18, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide stemming from shootings during a violent night of protest over police brutality in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted of the most serious charge.
The mistrial request was the latest turn in a dramatic trial that has lasted more than a week and features dozens of witnesses and videos. Rittenhouse and his lawyers said he was defending himself; the state said the then-17-year-old was looking for a fight he provoked when he brought his AR-15-style rifle downtown, creating an active-shooter situation.
Updates from Wednesday: Defense asks for mistrial over video
Judge Bruce Schroeder, who has drawn both sharp criticism and high praise over how he has handled the case, has yet to rule on the mistrial motion. He also has not ruled on a separate defense motion for a mistrial with prejudice, which would prevent Rittenhouse from being retried.
Rittenhouse fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz during the tense night of protests. The unrest came after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man who was left paralyzed from the waist down. The officer was cleared of any federal or state charges.
Rittenhouse is also charged with two reckless endangerment counts, and the jury was instructed it could consider lesser charges on certain counts.
Judge bans MSNBC from courtroom
Schroeder banned MSNBC from the courthouse Thursday after police briefly detained a man who supposedly followed the jury bus and may have tried to photograph jurors – the latest sensational snippet in the politically divisive case that has seen everything from shouting matches in court, tearful outbursts and backlash over actions and remarks by the judge.
Schroeder said the man claimed to work for MSNBC.
NBC News said in a statement that the man was a freelancer who received a citation for a traffic violation that took place near the jury vehicle, and he “never contacted or intended to contact the jurors during deliberations, and never photographed or intended to photograph them.”
The statement said the network regretted the incident and would fully cooperate with an investigation.
The jurors, who began deliberating Tuesday, are anonymous by order of the court. Schroeder said they were riding in a bus with covered windows to keep them from seeing any signs about the case.
Schroeder said the person who followed the jury bus was told by his boss in New York to do so. “The matter is under further investigation at this point,” he said.
Kenosha police tweeted that the person was briefly taken into custody and issued several traffic-related citations.
The judge called it an “extremely serious matter” that will be “referred to the proper authorities for further action.”
Lawyers spar over drone video
After jurors sent a question to Schroeder on Wednesday about how to view the video evidence, the lawyers got into a contentious debate over the drone video.
Defense attorney Corey Chirafisi called for a mistrial in the afternoon, saying that the issue had to do with basic fairness and that the defense didn’t realize the clip was of lower quality until Friday when both sides debated jury instructions.
The video is central to the state’s claim that Rittenhouse provoked the attack, which would cast doubt over whether he could claim self-defense. Prosecutors said the video shows Rittenhouse raise his rifle at a couple who had been with Rosenbaum much of the night. That action, they said, provoked Rosenbaum to chase Rittenhouse, who shot the unarmed man four times after they had run across a car lot.
The defense said that’s not what the video shows and that Rosenbaum had been acting aggressively and irrationally all night, threatening to kill Rittenhouse if he caught him alone.
The video didn’t come into play in the trial until Nov. 5, when a former employee from the the owner of the company that operated the drone dropped it off with a detective, Assistant District Attorney James Kraus said Wednesday. At some point in the process of sharing the video with defense attorneys, the file was condensed, thereby lowering its quality.
Kraus cast doubt on the defense’s claim that it didn’t have a higher-quality version, saying Rittenhouse’s former attorney, John Pierce, shared the drone video last year on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and the footage appeared to be of high resolution.
Jurors were shown the clip during the trial and given a laptop that included it and other videos to review during deliberations. Schroeder allowed them to watch on a large, high-resolution TV in the courtroom, while everyone else was locked out.
Schroeder said he has been “very queasy” about the drone video, and he expressed concerns about whether it was technologically sound earlier in the trial.
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Judge has yet to rule on mistrial
Schroeder allowed the jury to continue to view the evidence Wednesday but said the mistrial requests will have to be addressed if there is a guilty verdict. If Rittenhouse is convicted, the judge could still grant the motion to dismiss with prejudice. Rittenhouse could appeal over the same issues.
Defense attorneys orally requested the mistrial with prejudice last week. The defense alleged prosecutors improperly commented on Rittenhouse’s right to remain silent and tried to bring up evidence the judge ruled was not admissible.
In a written version of the request Monday, the defense added concerns about the drone video. Schroeder clarified Wednesday that he hadn’t read the written motion and wanted to give prosecutors time to respond. They had not by Wednesday.
Schroeder in spotlight: Letters of support, criticism pour into Kenosha courthouse for Rittenhouse trial judge
How much prison time could Rittenhouse face?
Rittenhouse’s most serious charge, first-degree intentional homicide in Huber’s death, includes a mandatory life sentence if he’s convicted; he could face lengthy prison time for the other charges.
Jurors may consider lesser charges in Huber’s death that could carry up to 60 years in prison, and the first-degree reckless homicide charge in Rosenbaum’s death carries up to 60 years with an additional five years for the “use of a dangerous weapon” modifier.
The attempted first-degree intentional homicide of Grosskreutz could carry a 60-year sentence plus five years for the same weapon modifier, and the jury can consider lesser charges in that count.
Each count of first-degree recklessly endangering safety could carry up to 12½ years in prison, plus a five-year weapon modifier. Rittenhouse fired at an unidentified man twice before he shot Huber and Grosskreutz. A Daily Caller reporter was at the scene of the Rosenbaum shooting and said a bullet whizzed past him.
Contributing: Elliot Hughes and Ashley Luthern, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; The Associated Press