Amid threats of a mistrial, the judge presiding over the Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial lashed out at a prosecutor Wednesday for ignoring a pretrial ruling and challenging the defendant’s right to remain silent.
Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder sent the jury out of the courtroom before blasting the prosecutor, whose questioning of Rittenhouse led to two fierce objections from the teen’s defense.
“I don’t know what you’re up to,” Schroeder told Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger.
The first blowup came after Binger referenced Rittenhouse’s decision not to talk to police after being arrested. Considered one of the accused’s most important protections, defendants cannot be questioned on the choice to remain silent at any point in their criminal case.
When the jury returned to the courtroom, Binger began an unrelated line of questioning and soon incurred the judge’s wrath for a second time, as he asked questions about whether Rittenhouse believed he could use his gun to protect property. The defense objected, and the judge sent jurors from the room again.
A furious Schroeder accused Binger of ignoring a pretrial ruling that barred him from mentioning a video shot weeks before the August 2020 shootings in which Rittenhouse allegedly talks about wanting to shoot people he believes are shoplifting from a local convenience store pharmacy.
When Binger tried to defend himself, the judge snapped. “Don’t get brazen with me,” Schroeder yelled.
The defense asked the judge for a mistrial with prejudice, meaning that if Schroeder granted it, Rittenhouse could not be retried for the shootings. The judge did not immediately rule on the defense request, saying he would give prosecutors time to respond.
Some of the judge’s pretrial rulings have dealt a setback to prosecutors’ efforts to portray Rittenhouse as a “chaos tourist” who came to Kenosha to impose his own sense of justice. Besides the convenience store video footage, prosecutors also had hoped to bolster that claim by showing pictures of Rittenhouse socializing with members of a far-right organization at a Wisconsin bar earlier this year. Schroeder barred the evidence because the judge said he believed it could prejudice jurors against Rittenhouse.
On Wednesday, Binger questioned Rittenhouse about whether he thought it was appropriate to use deadly force to protect property. Rittenhouse responded that he did not, prompting Binger to ask: “But yet you have previously indicated that you wished you had your AR-15 (rifle) to protect someone else’s property, correct?”
Defense attorney Mark Richards furiously objected, accusing the prosecution of trying to provoke a mistrial or forgetting basic rulings regarding pretrial motions. “He’s an experienced attorney and he knows better,” Richards said, later adding: “This is ridiculous.”
The judge sustained the defense’s objection.
Binger later apologized to the judge and acknowledged he should have asked for clarification beforehand. He told the judge he thought his ruling was not absolute, that the judge had “left the door open.”
“I didn’t interpret your ruling to mean this is absolutely not coming in,” Binger said. “This is my good faith explanation to you …”
“I don’t believe you,” the judge told him in response. “There better not be another incident.”
The judge had also rebuked the prosecutor for questioning Rittenhouse about not answering police questions about the shootings.
“The problem is this is a grave constitutional violation for you to talk about the defendant’s silence,” Schroeder told the prosecutor. “You’re right on the borderline and you may be over, and it better stop. This is not permitted.”
The prosecutor, though, said his questioning was more in reference to Rittenhouse’s comments in the media in a couple of interviews he granted in the months following the shootings. “I think that’s fair game,” Binger said.
Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty to the charges and says he acted in self-defense when he fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz in August 2020.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he testified Wednesday. “I was trying to defend myself.”
Then 17 and living in Antioch, Rittenhouse fired the shots while patrolling downtown Kenosha with an AR-15-style rifle amid the turmoil and unrest surrounding the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man, by a white police officer. Rittenhouse said he volunteered to act as an armed guard that night after businesses had been burned and vandalized during demonstrations held the previous day.
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