US teenager charged with killing two men during Wisconsin protests goes on trial

Trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, described by prosecutors as violent 'chaos tourist', set to go to opening arguments after jury selected

The homicide trial of Kyle Rittenhouse headed towards opening statements on Tuesday after a jury was selected after only one day despite the polarising nature of the case.

The jury in the politically charged case must decide whether Mr Rittenhouse acted in self-defence, as his lawyers claim, or was engaged in vigilantism when the then-17-year-old opened fire with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle in August 2020, killing two men and wounding a third.

The jury includes 12 jurors and eight alternates; 11 are women and nine are men. Jurors were not asked to identify their race during the selection process and the court did not immediately provide a racial breakdown of the group.

Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder lamented the impact of politics on the case.

“This case has become very political. It was involved in the politics of the last election year,” Mr Schroeder said, criticising the campaigns of both major parties for weighing in on the case.

Days after the shootings, former president Donald Trump suggested Mr Rittenhouse had acted in self-defence, while Joe Biden, Mr Trump's challenger at the time, had accused Mr Trump of stoking violence with his rhetoric.

Mr Schroeder, who faced heavy media criticism last week for ruling that the three men shot by Mr Rittenhouse could be labelled looters and arsonists if there was sufficient evidence while banning the word “victim” to describe them, took aim at the media in his comments to potential jurors about avoiding bias.

“We don't want to fall into the trap that many in the media have,” he said.

“I want this case to reflect the greatness of Kenosha and the fairness of Kenosha and don't want it to get sidetracked into other issues.”

Mr Rittenhouse, 18, has become a hero to some conservatives who believe in unfettered gun rights and see the shootings as justified amid the chaos that had engulfed Kenosha, Wisconsin, on August 25, 2020, when he shot the three men.

The demonstrations had been sparked by the shooting of a black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer, a few days earlier. They came amid nationwide protests over racism and police brutality that rattled US cities last year.

The prosecution, led by Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, is likely to try to choose left-leaning jurors inclined to view such protests favourably and frown upon armed citizens taking to the streets, legal experts said.

The defence is expected to focus on securing a right-leaning jury, with people that back the right to bear arms, support law enforcement and probably voted for former president Donald Trump.

With ample video evidence available, there is little dispute over the facts and the two sides will mainly focus on convincing the jury how to interpret Wisconsin law, which says someone can use deadly force if they “reasonably believe” it necessary to prevent their own death or great bodily harm.

Mr Rittenhouse is facing seven charges, including homicide in the fatal shootings of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and attempted homicide for wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, 27.

Bystander video captured Rosenbaum chasing Mr Rittenhouse but not the actual shooting. Video showed Huber swinging a skateboard at Mr Rittenhouse before he was shot. Mr Grosskreutz had a gun in his hand as he stepped towards Mr Rittenhouse and was shot.

Prosecutors have described Mr Rittenhouse as a vigilante and a “chaos tourist” with a violent streak.

They unsuccessfully sought to introduce a pair of videos, including one that showed Mr Rittenhouse appearing to punch a girl who was fighting his sister a couple of months before the shootings, and another in which Mr Rittenhouse is heard commenting that he would like to shoot some men he thought were shoplifting from a pharmacy.

Mr Schroeder estimated the trial would last two weeks.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: November 2nd 2021, 2:27 PM