By: Joseph Warta
Yelling judges, threats of a mistrial, and an emotional defendant have characterized the trial for Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who shot three people in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year, killing two and leaving one wounded.
Rittenhouse’s testimony on Wednesday was closely watched and was temporarily halted after an emotional breakdown while describing the incidents of the fateful night. Rittenhouse’s unexpected emotional moment punctuated the otherwise very serious, largely emotionless tone of the trial.
Prior to Rittenhouse’s testimony, the prosecution had an unexpected moment when the prosecution’s star witness, Gaige Grosskreutz, the only surviving person shot by Rittenhouse, inadvertently admitted that he was shot in self-defense:
Defense: “When you were standing, three to five feet from him, with your arms up in the air, [Rittenhouse] never fired. Right?”
Defense: “It wasn't until you pointed your gun at him, advanced on him with your gun, now your hands down, pointed at him, that he fired. Right?”
This exchange actually led a member of the prosecution’s team to literally put his face in his hand.
Rittenhouse’s defense also noted that Grosskreutz is suing the city for $10 million for damages related to the shooting. They noted that Rittenhouse’s guilt would almost certainly play a part in whether or not Grosskreutz’ lawsuit is successful, so his ability to give truthful testimony was possibly compromised. This was in addition to the accusations the defense already level against Grosskreutz of lying to police when he said he had dropped his gun and didn’t have it with him, when he did.
Grosskreutz’ roommate was also in the courtroom during the testimony, but when subpoenaed to testify on what the two discussed in the hospital following the shooting, he disappeared. It was reported that in the hospital, Grosskreutz had said his only regret was “not killing the kid and hesitating to pull the gun before emptying the entire mag into him.” He denied during his testimony having said that, however.
The witnesses weren’t the only ones drawing attention, either. The trial had an explosive moment when Judge Bruce Schroeder lashed out at the prosecution for what he deemed as unconstitutional questions, when the Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger asked about Rittenhouse’s silence following his arrest and asked questions Schroeder said he knew he wasn’t allowed to ask. The right to remain silent following an arrest being vigorously protected by the Fifth Amendment as one of the most fundamental rights in our legal system:
“I was astonished when you began your examination by commenting on the defendant’s post-arrest silence. That's basic law. It's been basic law in this country for 40 years. 50 years. I have no idea why you would do something like that,”
Not only were the questions about Rittenhouse’s silence at issue, they were also questions Binger asked about events that happened prior to the shooting that the judge had already said he couldn’t bring up. Schroeder referred to the prosecution’s line of questioning as a “grave constitutional violation” and said, “You're right on the borderline, and you may be over, but it better stop.”
The prosecutor tried to explain himself, but was met with Shroeder’s biting retort: “Don’t get brazen with me.” The judge added: "You know very well that an attorney can't go into these types of areas when the judge has already ruled without asking outside the presence of the jury to do so, so don't give me that."
The prosecution’s choice to bring this issue up had the defense threatening a mistrial with prejudice. The “with prejudice” distinction which would mean the state would be unable to bring the case up again. The next day, on Thursday, the defense did ask for a mistrial with prejudice, accusing the prosecution of asking questions it wasn’t allowed to ask, and attempting to force a mistrial to avoid an acquittal, so the prosecution can start over with the case after fumbling significant portions of the trial. Judge Schroeder has not yet ruled on a mistrial.
Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder said that the trial will ideally be over tomorrow. But, he said, “We’ll see what happens.”