Though jurors acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges on Friday, the 18-year-old became a flashpoint in the U.S. culture war when his defense was associated with since-fired attorney John Pierce. In an interview with The Law&Crime Network’s Angenette Levy on the heels of Friday’s not guilty verdicts, Rittenhouse’s lead counsel Mark Richards slammed Pierce as the genesis of some of the tactics which increased — rather than mitigated — public scorn for the teen.
“His first lawyer was more interested in promoting himself than representing Kyle,” Richards said after being asked about Rittenhouse’s controversial photo with the Proud Boys. “And he did things with Kyle that never should have been done.”
While out on bond, Kyle went to a bar with his mother Wendy Rittenhouse and drank beers. (Though he was and remains under the legal drinking age, his actions were legal in Wisconsin since he was with a parent.) He partied with members of the far-right group The Proud Boys, flashed an “OK” hand gesture co-opted by white supremacist groups, and wore a shirt stating “Free as Fuck.” Prosecutors managed to use photos of the incident to further restrict the terms of Rittenhouse’s pretrial release from jail.
Richards blamed Pierce for incidents that included a trip Rittenhouse took to Miami. The meeting was supposed to have been with the leader of the Proud Boys. When Rittenhouse learned of the plan, he called his mother and departed the city, Richards said.
“And Mr. Pierce was not his lawyer after that,” Richards added.
The eventual lead attorney’s comments placed a punctuation mark on incidents he spent months trying to explain.
In response to a Law&Crime request for comment, Pierce did not initially discuss the barroom photo or the Miami visit, but he did reiterate that he rejected any entitlement to Rittenhouse’s $2 million bail money. He noted that he had filed an interpleader action stating as such in federal district court in Texas.
“Unfortunately, manufactured controversy, such as the social media speculation about the bail money is nothing more than a distraction designed to discredit me, as I prepare to defend many more people who are being abused for political gain,” Pierce said.
Law&Crime sent a follow-up request for Pierce to address the Proud Boys photo and the Miami visit.
“You mean the photo taken when I was in a different state?” he wrote in an email. “These are strange questions to say the least.”
Prosecutors cited the Miami visit in their work against Rittenhouse, but Judge Bruce Schroeder refused to allow Rittenhouse’s jury to see or hear of the attempted link to the Proud Boys.
“I think the evidence would be poison,” Schroeder said.
Before being fired from Rittenhouse’s legal time in February, Pierce supported the teen through the #FightBack Foundation, a 501(c)4 organization founded by lawyer Lin Wood.
Though the group raised millions for Rittenhouse’s bail, his mother Wendy Rittenhouse says it never provided an accounting of the money, which her son’s prosecutors described in a legal filing as a “slush fund.” In an exclusive interview with Law&Crime, Wendy Rittenhouse painted Wood and Pierce as politically motivated self-promoters.
“They used Kyle to gain money, gain Twitter followers,” Wendy Rittenhouse told Law&Crime’s Adam Klasfeld in a March interview for the podcast “Objections.”
“I felt now they didn’t care about Kyle,” she added.
Wendy Rittenhouse also claimed that Wood left her son in jail because of his theory of a post-2020 election “Armageddon.”
“He told me that my son would be safe in jail because he thought that on the night of the election — was Nov. 3 or the fourth, I can’t remember what day the election was on — that there was going to be Armageddon going to happen,” she said. “And Kyle was safer in jail.”
Rittenhouse’s spokesperson Dave Hancock, #FightBack’s former executive director, provided Law&Crime with a recording showing Wood appearing to say: “Keep this boy in that youth facility in Illinois.”
Wood denied wrongdoing to Law&Crime, saying he agreed with the decision to keep Rittenhouse behind bars because of death threats the teen was receiving.
“I’m gonna answer your questions. But if you do what I think you’re going to try to do, I’m gonna sue your ass,” Wood told Law&Crime in a voicemail earlier this year.
“People were using this kid to raise money and profit themselves, and it turns my stomach,” Richards said on Friday shortly after the acquittal.
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Despite the apparent rancor between various iterations of Rittenhouse’s defense team, Pierce welcomed news of the acquittal.
“I am so proud of Kyle and thankful that justice was served,” Pierce said. “The ability to defend ourselves is one of the most basic rights and today that that right was affirmed and upheld. I am also incredibly proud of the work that I did in the initial months of the case, building a defense team and helping to raise millions of dollars to gain Kyle his freedom.”
Law&Crime’s extensive coverage of the Rittenhouse case is here.
Adam Klasfeld contributed to this report.
[Screenshot via Law&Crime Network]
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