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How politicization impacted the Rittenhouse trial, the outcome, and the future of protest safety

Left to right: Kyle Rittenhouse stands with his attorneys, Corey Chirafisi, and Natalie Wisco as the jury leaves to deliberate during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse on Nov. 16, 2021.
Sean Krajacic-Pool
Getty Images
Left to right: Kyle Rittenhouse stands with his attorneys, Corey Chirafisi, and Natalie Wisco as the jury leaves to deliberate during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse on Nov. 16, 2021.

Last week in Kenosha, a jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse on all charges. He was facing five charges, including intentional homicide for killing two people and injuring a third during protests in the city of Kenosha last summer. The case was heavily politicized by Republican and Democratic leaders, and the response to the verdict has been no different.

But for many, the case and the decision have raised questions about what we consider self-defense and who is truly protected by our laws. Attorney Andrew Martinez is a founding partner at Martinez & Ruby LLP in Baraboo, and he explains that some of the most impactful decisions were about what evidence was allowed in the trial.

Judge Bruce Schroeder ruled that two videos be omitted from evidence during the trial. One video shows Rittenhouse fist fighting with a girl, and a second video shows Rittenhouse saying he wished he had a gun to shoot people, who he believed were stealing from a store.

Martinez says he's unsure whether the judge made the right decision in excluding the videos from evidence, but he believes they could have been relevant to jurors. He says it's rare for other defendants to have this kind of evidence omitted from trial.

"Even if we agree that the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict is the right verdict, we have to think about what happens to a defendant similarly situated to Kyle Rittenhouse, but without the massive media attention, without the massive support from anonymous donors online, and perhaps with a different skin color," Martinez says.

As a defendant, Rittenhouse was given some considerations that may not have been given to another person in his situation.

Martinez says it's rare that defendants have $2 million in resources to post bail. Having a defendant charged with an extremely serious crime out on bond leading up to the trial is also an enormous advantage, according to Martinez.

"You have unfettered access to your client. You can talk to your client anytime you want, wherever you want. You don't have to worry about guards or about security protocols in custody. You can run through mock interviews, or mock cross examinations," Martinez explains.

For Martinez, one of the most legally complicated aspects of this case is the interactions Rittenhouse had with the three men he shot. Martinez says that after Rittenhouse shot Joseph Roseumbaum, Gaige Grosskreutz and Anthony Huber arguably had a right to defend themselves and defend others.

"I think the fact that there's a strong argument ... that all three of these people had the privilege to use deadly force—suggests that our laws are perhaps not written as clearly as they should be," Martinez says.

While the verdict doesn't set a legal precedent, Martinez notes the trial will definitely have implications about the way people in the state think of self-defense.

"I definitely believe the prosecutors could have made different choices that would have resulted in some convictions. I think that the way that the prosecution presented their case, forced the jury to either say 'self-defense is real or self-defense is not'. I just don't think that's the right way to approach it," says Martinez.

Many fear the verdict will embolden so-called vigilantes to come armed to protests or even kill more people at protests.

Martinez explains, "To the extent to which right wing believers are going to be emboldened by this, I think is up in the air right now. I can tell you that from what I've seen online It's definitely the case that they take this as a total victory and a total vindication of their position."

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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