Kenosha County, WI – Activists are gearing up to protest on Monday when jury selection begins in the trial of 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who is charged with killing two people during the Jacob Blake riots last summer.
Kenosha Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder made a number of controversial rulings ahead of jury selection, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Schroeder, 75, infuriated social justice activists on Oct. 25 when he ruled that prosecutors could not refer to the people whom Rittenhouse had shot as “victims,” the Chicago Tribune reported.
However, the judge said the defense attorneys could refer to the people who had been shot by their client as “rioters, looters and arsonists” as long as they presented evidence that supported those claims.
“He can demonize them if he wants, if he thinks it will win points with the jury,” Schroeder said.
Prosecutors who have gone before this judge before said that Schroeder has a long-standing rule that bars the use of the word “victim” in self-defense cases when there is any dispute over who was responsible for the incident, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“This is a man who has given the defense a chance to present their case as long as I’ve been in his courtroom,” Kenosha defense attorney Michael Cicchini said. “He’s very consistent in that way, and that’s a good thing for all defendants regardless of their skin color.”
Rittenhouse is facing seven felony charges including first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, reckless endangerment, and a misdemeanor charge for possession of a dangerous weapon by a minor, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
The most serious of the charges carries as sentence of life in prison if the 18 year old is convicted.
Defense attorneys sought to have the gun charge dismissed ahead of jury selection but Schroeder denied the motion.
The teen’s attorneys have said the shootings occurred when he was in Kenosha to help clean graffiti off school buildings that had been vandalized during the anti-police riots when a friend asked him to help provide security for a car dealership.
Rittenhouse, then 17 years old, brought a medic kit and an AR-15 rifle that a friend had purchased for him with his stimulus check and told reporters on the scene he was there to help anybody who was hurt.
At one point, he left the dealership to provide medical aid to a protester and then found himself blocked from returning to where his friends were.
His attorneys have said Rittenhouse was pursued through the streets of Kenosha and shot three people – killing two – in self-defense.
In pretrial hearings, the judge also denied a fairly routine request from attorneys on both sides and ruled there would be no questionnaire sent to jurors prior to the start of jury selection on Nov. 1.
“I maybe have tried more murder cases than anyone in the state and I’ve never used a jury questionnaire that I can recall,” Wisconsin’s longest-serving circuit judge told the prosecutors and defense attorneys. “And if I did, it was a moment of weakness.”
Schroeder also ruled at a recent hearing that he would allow expert witness testimony at the trial about the shooting timeline because bystanders frequently have unreliable memories with regard to time and distance, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“I had a deputy sheriff one time testify that the width of a standard-sized automobile was four feet and you could not shake him from that,” the judge recalled. “He could not be shook and the case was lost — and I know because I was the prosecutor.”
Activists were furious that Schroeder wouldn’t allow Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber, and Gaige Grosskreutz to be called “victims” and vowed to protest at the courthouse at the start of the trial, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“This case continues to be a show of white privilege,” Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake, told reporters. “This is eroding confidence in the justice system and making a mockery of our constitution.”
Activists also decried Schroeder’s ruling that the prosecutors could not mention Rittenhouse’s alleged connection to the Proud Boys or other far-right groups at trial, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Blake’s uncle said he would be one of the demonstrators in front of the courthouse on Monday.
“These rulings are not OK,” he said. “And we want everyone to know that.”
About 150 prospective jurors are expected to report for jury selection on Nov. 1 and Schroeder has said he believed they would have the jury empaneled by the end of the first day, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said people should expect to see an increased law enforcement presence near the courthouse when the trial begins, WTMJ reported.
“Our responsibility to public safety is of utmost importance,” Sheriff Beth said. “These measures are meant to ensure the safety of the public that has legal business in and around the courthouse campus as well as Civic Center employees while maintaining the integrity of the trial.”
The trial is expected to run for several weeks, WTMJ reported.