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Jurors in Rittenhouse case were picked in one day, after being questioned on Kenosha unrest, guns and the media spotlight

RITTENHOUSE Murder Trial Courtroom
Mark Hertzberg
/
ZUMA Press Wire via Pool
Defense Attorney Corey Chirafisi questions potential jurors during jury selection on the first day of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial in Kenosha Circuit Court Monday Nov. 1. Rittenhouse faces seven charges including one count each of First Degree Intentional Homicide, First Degree Reckless Homicide, and Attempted First Degree Intentional Homicide. Rittenhouse, then 17, shot three people, two of them fatally during the unrest that followed the shooting of Jacob Blake seven times by a Kenosha police officer.

A jury heard opening statements Tuesday in the murder trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, after being picked and empaneled in one day on Monday. That’s despite a barrage of local and national media attention on the case. Rittenhouse, who is now 18, shot three men, killing two of them, in Kenosha in August 2020. The shootings occurred as Rittenhouse sought to protect property amid the unrest that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake, Jr., a Black man.

Here is an inside view of the proceedings Monday and insights about the jury:

The jam-packed day of jury selection, also called voir dire, gave insights on the group of jurors that will be listening to the evidence and deciding the outcome of the Kyle Rittenhouse case.

The jury consists of 20 people, 12 who will ultimately consider the verdict, and eight alternates. They came from an overall pool of 150 people, 80 who were in the courtroom and were questioned.

It’s an almost entirely white jury, on the older side, and nearly split between men and women. There were only a handful of Black prospective jurors in the in-court pool. Kenosha County is nearly 90% white.

The issues surrounding the trial evoke debate on issues like race, politics, policing and the Second Amendment. But Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder, who is presiding over the trial, aims to make the focus as narrow as possible.

Schroeder told the jury to pay attention only to what’s introduced as evidence in court and ordered them not to read, watch or listen to anything else about the case.

During voir dire, prospective jurors spoke about their opinions, experiences and exposure to the facts around the case leading up to the trial. Having seen news coverage or videos of the incident was not an automatic disqualifier.

They were disqualified if they could not put aside what they thought based on out-of-court assumptions and decide the case just based on the evidence admitted in court. The prospective jurors also shared how they were wrestling with the complexities of the trial.

One woman teared up and said her biracial granddaughter attended the protests, and said she couldn’t be impartial. As a result, she was struck for cause.

Another woman got emotional when talking about how entrenched her husband was in his views on the case and said if she served on the jury, it could end her marriage. She was also struck for cause.

Yet another prospective juror had an earnest exchange with the judge when she admitted she was worried about being on a jury for a case that provokes such hostility.

She said “either way this goes, you’re going to have half the country upset with you.”

Schroeder responded that in 38 years on the bench, he’s never had a juror threatened. The woman clarified that she was more concerned for the community as a whole, than for herself. But she said she was comforted when Schroeder postulated that maybe the country would calm down if it saw a verdict in a fair trial.

Prospective jurors answered questions about gun knowledge and use, protests and policing in general, and whether they were personally affected by the unrest in the city.

Several prospective jurors were called for an “individual voir dire” in the judge’s library. That allowed the parties to dig more deeply into the prospective jurors' ability to serve, outside of the presence of their fellow panelists.

After that, the parties settled on another new juror to round out the panel of 34 impartial jurors from which both prosecution and defense could choose.

Throughout the trial, Rittenhouse, surrounded by his three attorneys, was quiet and appeared to be listening to the questions and answers without showing outward emotion.

Rittenhouse's attorney asked the prospective jurors if they could judge the case fairly regardless of whether Rittenhouse takes the stand.

Defendants have a constitutional right to testify or not to testify, and not to have that held against them in court. None of the prospective jurors said they’d judge him differently if he didn’t testify.

Rittenhouse’s attorneys will be arguing that he acted in self-defense.

Maayan Silver has been a reporter with WUWM’s News Team since 2018.
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