The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the American teenager charged with killing two men and wounding a third with a military-style rifle during protests in Wisconsin last year, will kick off on Monday with jury selection in the politically charged case.
Lawyers from the prosecution and defense will begin probing potential jurors for their political leanings and perceived biases, with a focus on their views on issues including policing and gun rights on which the trial is expected to hinge.
“As much as the judge does not to want this to be a political trial, politics are going to run deep through this thing,” said Keith Findley, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School.
Rittenhouse, 18, has emerged as a hero to some conservatives who believe in unfettered gun rights and see the shootings as justified amid the chaos that had engulfed Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Aug. 25, 2020, when he shot the three men.
The demonstrations had been sparked by the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer, a few days earlier. They came amid nationwide protests over racism and police brutality that rattled U.S. cities last year.
The prosecution, led by Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, will likely try and choose left-leaning jurors inclined to view such protests favorably and frown upon armed citizens taking to the street, legal experts said.
The defense, led by attorney Mark Richards, is expected to focus on securing a right-leaning jury, with people that back the right to bear arms, support law enforcement and likely voted for former President Donald Trump.
“The scripts are flipped on this one,” said Michael F. Hart, a criminal defense lawyer in Milwaukee, noting that the prosecution would normally be the side trying to secure jurors who view law and order as important. “That’s what makes this case unique and an interesting one to watch.”
Findley said jury selection, which could last multiple days, was particularly important in the Rittenhouse trial, given the subjective nature of the task facing jurors and because how people viewed the case tended to divide along partisan lines.
With ample video evidence available, there is little dispute over the facts and the two sides will mainly focus on convincing the jury how to interpret Wisconsin law, which says someone can use deadly force if they “reasonably believe” it necessary to prevent their own death or great bodily harm.
Rittenhouse, a resident of nearby Antioch, Illinois, is facing seven charges, including homicide in the fatal shootings of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and attempted homicide for wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, 27.
Prosecutors are expected to argue that Rittenhouse, who says he was in Kenosha to help protect a business, was looking for violent conflict and reacted with disproportionate force.
The defense will stress that Rittenhouse feared for his life in each encounter. Video evidence shows Rosenbaum charging at Rittenhouse, Huber swinging a skateboard at him and Grosskreutz armed with a pistol when he was shot.