Judge starts Rittenhouse trial with trivia and lectures
The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse began Monday with the challenging task of seating jurors who haven’t already made up their minds about the man who shot three people, killing two, during a violent night of protests last year in Kenosha. Selection of the 20-member jury pool was completed Monday evening.
Rittenhouse was 17 when he traveled from his home in Illinois, just across the Wisconsin border, during protests that broke out in August 2020 after a police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man.
Rittenhouse faces life in prison if he’s convicted on one of the homicide counts against him.
At one point Monday morning, Schroeder cautioned a potential juror that this was "not a political trial" and lamented that candidates on both sides of the aisle had raised the incident in their campaigns.
"There are important issues for those who seek to lead our country to discuss. The innocence or guilt of an individual accused of a crime is not one of them," Schroeder said.
Rittenhouse has been the personification of America’s polarization. The teenager was cheered by Americans who despised the Black Lives Matter movement and the sometimes destructive protests that followed George Floyd’s death. Others saw Rittenhouse as the most worrisome example yet of vigilante citizens taking to the streets with guns.
Many also saw racism, as an armed white teen and aspiring police officer was welcomed by police to a city where activists were rallying against a white officer’s shooting of a Black man.
The case may turn on how Rittenhouse’s self-defense claim stacks up against prosecutors’ argument that he acted recklessly and dangerously by being on the streets of Kenosha with a rifle, according to legal experts who examined the evidence in the case.
Schroeder opened jury selection with a round of "Jeopardy!"-like trivia, assuring potential jurors he doesn’t have COVID-19 and reaching back to the fall of the Roman Empire to emphasize the gravity of their duty.
He drew laughs in the courtroom Monday — and some cringes on social media — as he peppered potential jurors with trivia questions, and offered his own commentary. When the answer to one was the film "Psycho," the 75-year-old Schroeder quipped: "Heard of it."
The trial is expected to last two to three weeks.