Kyle Rittenhouse lawyers say they will seek a mistrial

Christy Gutowski and Stacy St. Clair
Chicago Tribune

KENOSHA, Wis. — 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 attorney.

Schroeder accused Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger of trying to introduce testimony from Rittenhouse about a pretrial issue the judge had ruled was not allowed. It concerned a video weeks before the shootings in which Rittenhouse allegedly talks about wanting to shoot people he believes are shoplifting from a local pharmacy.

“You should have come to the court and said I want to go into this,” Schroeder shouted at the prosecutor. “Why (did) you think you could go into this without any advance notice to the court, I don’t understand.”

Schroeder did not immediately rule on a defense request for a mistrial, but it was clear he was angry at the prosecution.

“I don’t know what you’re up to,” Schroeder told Binger.

The judge’s pretrial ruling dealt a setback to prosecutors’ efforts to portray Rittenhouse as a “chaos tourist” who came to Kenosha to impose his own sense of justice. They 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, but Schroeder barred the evidence because the judge said he believed it could prejudice jurors against Rittenhouse.

Kyle Rittenhouse testifies during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse on Nov. 10, 2021 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. (Sean Krajacic-Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

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.”

After the judge sent the jury out of the courtroom, later sustaining the defense’s objection, he blasted Binger for trying to introduce testimony concerning the convenience store video in spite of the earlier ruling.

When Binger tried to defend himself, the judge snapped. “Don’t get brazen with me,” he yelled.

Binger apologized and acknowledged he should have asked 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 after the defense stated that it intended to formally move for a mistrial. “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.”

Regarding the defense’s mistrial request, Schroeder allowed the prosecution more time to respond.

Earlier, the judge also rebuked the prosecutor for questioning Rittenhouse on his decision to ask for a lawyer after initial questioning at the Antioch Police Department hours after the shooting, when the teen turned himself in.

“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 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. Despite not being old enough to openly carry a gun, 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.