Judge Bruce Schroeder criticises ‘irresponsible statements’ that have sought to undermine trial outcome
The judge presiding over the nationally televised double homicide trial of Kyle Rittenhouse has criticised media coverage and “irresponsible statements” that he feels have sought to undermine the outcome.
As jurors deliberate for a second day following two weeks of testimony, Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder defended his long-standing decision to prohibit characterising people as “victims” in his courtroom and allowing Mr Rittenhouse to randomly draw juror numbers from a tumbler.
“As I spoke about it on the first day of trial, the result of the trial should be open to public scrutiny and people should have confidence in the outcome of the trial. I think we can all agree on that, and it’s just a shame that irresponsible statements are being made,” he said from the bench on 17 November as the jury was absent, referring to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article about the judge’s decision-making.
He added: “The business about people not being identified as victims – how would you like to be put on a trial for a crime and the judge introduced the case to the jury by introducing you as the defendant and the person who is accusing you as the victim? And then throughout the trial have all the references to the complaining witness as being the victim?”
Judge Schroeder – the longest-serving Wisconsin trial judge – said he also read complaints about “about how bizarre and unusual it was to pick the numbers out of the tumbler” as he recalled a previous case that prompted him to allow the defendant to draw the names.
“Ever since that case I’ve had an almost universal policy of the defendant doing the picks,” he said. “I’ve never had a complaint about it before … but some people seem to be dissatisfied with that, and people who want to undermine the result of the trial.”
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger told the judge that such criticisms are reasons why he avoids reading about the case.
“We know what happens in here. They don’t,” he said.
“I don’t always have that luxury,” Judge Schroeder said.
He added: “Some of the things that have been said – I guess I’ll comment on that too. These are five very reputable competent attorneys that I’ve practised with for years. I think it’s shameful some of the things that are being done to these people.”
“When I talked about problems with the media when this trial started, we are there in part – not fully – but in part because of grossly irresponsible handling of what comes out of this trial,” he said.
Judge Schroeder said he will “think long and hard about live television of a trial again next time”.
“I’ve always been a firm believer of it because I think the people should be able to see what’s going on, but when I see what’s being done it’s really quite frightening,” he said. “Frightening, that’s the word.”
Mr Rittenhouse faces five felonies, including first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and two counts of recklessly endangering safety in the first degree, for killing two men and injuring another with an AR-15-style rifle in the aftermath of police brutality protests on 25 August 2020.
Legal teams presented closing arguments on 15 November, and 12 jurors began deliberating the following day. They were dismissed after more than eight hours of deliberations during their first day in the jury room. They returned to the courthouse at 9am on 17 November.