In the midst of a tough trial, the prosecutors in the Kyle Rittenhouse case have decided at the last moment to add “lesser charges” against the teenager, essentially hedging their bet against a murder conviction.
The lesser charges will allow the prosecution a better chance of conviction while trading off the likelihood of Rittenhouse receiving a life sentence. Prosecutors typically lay lesser charges when they’re on the ropes and believe a defendant may be acquitted on those already filed.
During a Friday morning court hearing, prosecutors, the defense, and Judge Bruce Schroeder argued over the legitimacy of adding the new charges. Like the rest of the trial, the court session was tense and Schroeder snapped at the prosecutors several times. Rittenhouse’s lawyers objected to some of the lesser charges but said they felt others were “appropriate.”
Eventually, Schroeder denied several inclusions asked for by the prosecution but said he would “likely” include lesser charges of second-degree intentional homicide, and first-degree reckless homicide relating to the shooting of Anthony Huber. He allowed other lesser charges relating to the shooting of Gaige Grosskreutz, and the charge relating to Rittenhouse firing at Joseph Rosenbaum while a video journalist was nearby to be filed as well.
“It raises the risk of conviction but avoids the possibility that the jury will end up compromising on the more serious crime, and you’re decreasing the risk that you’ll end up with a second trial because the jury is unable to agree,” Schroeder explained to Rittenhouse.
On August 25, 2020, Rittenhouse, then 17, traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, from his home in a nearby Illinois town after seeing reports on social media of protesters flooding the streets and causing property damage following police officers shooting and paralyzing an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake. Armed with an AR-15-style rifle, Rittenhouse went to defend a car dealership. He saw himself as a medic who was there to help people.
The defense and the prosecution agree that Rittenhouse, now 18, shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, who was unarmed after Rosenbaum chased him in a parking lot. After killing Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse fled the scene and claimed he was headed toward police but was confronted by a group of people. Rittenhouse fell, and while on the ground, he shot at an unidentified man trying to kick him, shot and killed Huber, who had hit him with a skateboard, and also shot and injured Grosskreutz, who’d approached him with a handgun. (Grosskreutz testified he thought Rittenhouse was an active shooter.)
In a rare win for the prosecutors, the judge also ruled they can submit a video as evidence that they believe shows Rittenhouse instigated the interaction with Rosenbaum by raising his weapon at him. The defense previously argued it couldn’t be submitted because of the technique used to zoom in on it.
In addition to the lesser charges, Rittenhouse still faces charges of first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree homicide, and attempted first-degree homicide, and two counts of recklessly endangering safety as well as misdemeanour charges for illegally possessing a firearm.
Prosecutors have been portraying Rittenhouse as a vigilante and the instigator of that night’s bloodshed, whereas the defense is treating him as a young man who was forced to take several lives that night to defend himself.
The defense, as well as the prosecution, rested their cases Thursday after a dramatic two-week trial. Almost two dozen witnesses, including Rittenhouse himself (who broke down on the stand), were called to testify.
The trial has been immensely polarizing. On the left, Rittenhouse is seen as a vigilante out looking for blood in Kenosha that evening and a representation of U.S. gun culture run amok. On the right, he’s viewed as a teenager forced into a position where he had to draw blood in self-defense and was unfairly charged by a “woke” prosecution. In some far-right corners, Rittenhouse is actively treated as a hero.
Jury instructions will be sent out Saturday. Eighteen jurors are currently hearing the trial—it was originally 19 but one was dismissed after making a joke about the police shooting of Blake to the rest of the jurors. Twelve jurors from the 18 will be selected via a random draw to decide the verdict.
Final arguments on the case will be heard on Monday.
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