The judge presiding over the Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial complained about media’s coverage of developments in the case, calling some reports “grossly irresponsible.” Though the judge never shut the door completely, he voiced doubt whether he will allow live television coverage of future trials in his courtroom.
“These are five very reputable, competent attorneys that I’ve practiced with for years, and I think it’s shameful some of the things that are being done to these people,” Judge Bruce Schroeder said in court Wednesday, during juror deliberations. “When I talked about problems with the media, when this trial started, we’re there in part — not fully, but in part — because of grossly irresponsible handling of what comes out of this trial. I will tell you this, I’m going to think long and hard about live television of a trial again next time. I don’t know. I’ve always been a firm believer in it because I think the people should be able to see what’s going on, but what I see, what’s being done is really quite frightening. Frightening, that’s the right word for it.”
Schroeder previously complained about analysis from CNN, though he seemed to mix up comments by CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin with something fellow legal analyst Areva Martin said about a slightly different matter.
The slams against the press on Wednesday came after the judge repeatedly praised the efficiency of the television pool coverage. His issue seemed to focus on broadcast content and not on the mechanics of how the trial was actually being broadcast.
The Rittenhouse trial has become a cause célèbre among the political right. A then-17-year-old went to Kenosha, Wisconsin, ostensibly to help protect private property during spiraling protests over a police officer shooting local man Jacob Blake, who is Black. The night of Aug. 25, 2020 ended with Rittenhouse killing Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26; Rittenhouse injured Gaige Grosskreutz, 27.
The prosecution maintains that Rittenhouse went looking for trouble and caused it. Some testimony revealed that Rittenhouse pointed his gun at other individuals prior to pulling the trigger; other testimony revealed that members of Rittenhouse’s posse were also pointing their weapons’ laser sights from the roof of a car dealership toward people in the streets. The defense argued that Rosenbaum ambushed Rittenhouse, that Rittenhouse had to kill Rosenbaum in self-defense, and that a crowd — including Huber and Grosskreutz — attacked Rittenhouse and would have killed the defendant had the defendant not fought back.
The jury is tasked with considering whether Rittenhouse provoked the attack or whether others placed him in sufficient fear to conclude that the shootings were legally justified. The full jury instructions are available here.
Critics of Schroeder have complained about him stopping attorneys from calling the men who died “victims,” but allowing the defense to use words like “looters” and “rioters.”
Schroeder has repeatedly signaled that he is very much aware of public coverage of the case. He said on Wednesday that his decision to ban the use of the word “victims” during the trial was a matter of fairness for a defendant presumed innocent in the eyes of the law.
“Is it so difficult to just use the term ‘complaining witness,’ instead of prejudging what the jury is here to determine as to whether there is a victim and whether there is a crime committed?” he asked.
Schroeder also addressed public scrutiny over his decision to have Rittenhouse, not a court employee, randomly pick the names of alternate jurors from a tumbler. The judge said he has employed the tactic of asking a defendant to choose the jury after a court clerk’s selection years prior removed a Black juror from a pool which was assembled to judge a Black defendant.
“There was nothing wrong with it. It was all okay, but what do they talk about — ‘optics’ nowadays?” Schroeder said. “Is that the word for things? It was a bad optic, I thought. I think people feel better when they have control, so ever since that case, I’ve had an almost universal policy of having the defendant do the picks.”
He said it had nothing to do with anybody’s race or anything like that.
“I never had a complaint about it before,” the judge said. “In fact, I haven’t had a complaint about here, but some people seem to be dissatisfied with that, and people who want to undermine the result of the trial.”
[Screenshot via Law&Crime Network]
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