Viewers of the Rittenhouse trial have come to expect the unexpected after a series of dramatic scenes inside the courtroom in Kenosha, Wisconsin
As Kyle Rittenhouse stands trial for shooting three men at a protest last fall, viewers have come to expect the unexpected after a series of dramatic scenes inside the courtroom in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Some of the most memorable moments have centred around Judge Bruce Schroeder, who made clear early on that he is not afraid to raise his voice or interrupt an attorney he perceives to be taking too long to get to the point.
Judge Schroeder has drawn attention away from the defendant on several occasions over 12 days of hearings, including when he unleashed a vicious rebuke of the prosecution, questioned the reliability of Apple’s technology and made a joke about “Asian food”. In lighter moments, the judge broke out into song in front of the jury and flipped through a cookie catalogue during a break.
The state’s closing argument also brought a few noteworthy instances, including when a prosecutor pointed Mr Rittenhouse’s AR-15 at the jury and used a movie clip to underline a point.
But the most striking stretch of the trial came on 10 November, when Mr Rittenhouse took the stand in his own defence and broke down in tears as he recounted the moments before he fatally shot his first victim, Joseph Rosenbaum.
As the jury continues deliberations on five felony charges, The Independent explains some of the most provocative moments so far:
Mr Rittenhouse breaks down in tears on the stand
The question of whether Mr Rittenhouse would – or should – testify prompted fierce debate among legal experts as the trial got underway. Some said it was too risky to allow prosecutors time to poke holes in his account. But others argued that the jury needed to hear from him directly about how he carried out the shootings because he feared for his life in order to prove his claim of self-defence.
Mr Rittenhouse sided with the latter group and sat before the jury on the morning of 10 November, putting his emotions on full display when he erupted into sobs about 30 minutes into questioning by his attorney Mark Richards.
Up until that point, the 18-year-old had spoken calmly and clearly as he walked through the hours before he came face to face with Mr Rosenbaum.
His voice began to crack as he described how he was “cornered” in a parking lot by Mr Rosenbaum and another protester, Joshua Ziminski, who was armed. Within seconds, Mr Rittenhouse appeared to hyperventilate, unable to get out the words for what happened next as he held his hand in the air and hunched over the microphone heaving and gasping.
Judge Schroeder called a brief recess to give Mr Rittenhouse time to compose himself. About 10 minutes later he returned to the stand and testified that Mr Rosenbaum screamed: “If I catch any of you f***ing alone I’m going to f***ing kill you.”
Under cross-examination, Mr Rittenhouse said he thought Mr Rosenbaum was going to take his rifle and use it to kill him. He said he did not intend to kill Mr Rosenbaum despite having shot him three times after the first bullet caused him to fall. “I continued to shoot until he was no longer a threat to me,” he said.
Judge Schroeder shouts at the prosecution for ‘bad faith’
Prosecutor Thomas Binger’s cross-examination of Mr Rittenhouse was interrupted multiple times by both the defence and Judge Schroeder.
The first interruption came only a few questions in, when Mr Binger asked Mr Rittenhouse why he had chosen to remain silent on the case until now. Judge Schroeder warned the prosecutor against violating the defendant’s Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
“The problem is this is a grave constitutional violation for you to talk about the defendant’s silence,” the judge said. “You’re right on the borderline, and you may be over it. But it better stop.”
Tensions boiled over when Mr Binger brought up a video that was previously ruled inadmissible in court. The video recorded two weeks before the shootings on 10 August 2020 showed Mr Rittenhouse saying he wanted to shoot people he believed were shoplifting at a pharmacy.
Mr Binger responded to a defence objection by saying the video needed to be addressed because it establishes a connection between Mr Rittenhouse’s actions and his attitudes.
Judge Schroeder fiercely rejected Mr Binger’s rationale, shouting: “Don’t get brazen with me! I said when I made my [pretrial] ruling, I see no similarity between talking about ‘wishing you had your AR gun’, which you don’t have, to fire rounds at shoplifters, and the incidents in these cases.”
Mr Binger and the judge proceeded to go back and forth with so many interruptions that the court reporter asked them to slow down.
Judge Schroeder concluded the argument by harking back to his previous claim that Mr Binger violated Mr Rittenhouse’s rights.
“I was astonished when you began your examination by commenting on the defendant’s post-arrest silence,” Schroeder said. “That’s basic law. It’s been basic law in this country for 40 years, 50 years. I have no idea why you would do something like that.”
The judge called another brief recess, after which Mr Rittenhouse’s attorneys announced they will file a motion for a mistrial with prejudice due to “prosecutorial misconduct”.
Judge Schroeder said he would take the motion under advisement, telling Mr Binger: “When you say you were acting in good faith, I don’t believe you.”
Confusion arises over iPad camera’s ‘pinch to zoom’ technology
The prosecution took yet another hit later in the hearing when the defence sought to throw out iPad video of Mr Rittenhouse shooting Mr Rosenbaum over questions about the reliability of Apple’s pinch to zoom feature.
Mr Richards, who said he does not know anything about the technology “at all”, claimed that artificial intelligence inside Apple software on the device would distort the zoomed-in image by “creating what it thinks is there, not what necessarily is there.”
The objection set off a 10-minute debate, with Mr Binger arguing that pinch zooming on Apple devices is a “common part of everyday life” that all jurors would understand.
The prosecutor likened the feature to a magnifying glass, saying it does not diminish the video or otherwise manipulate the image on the screen. He suggested that the defence could call its own witness to prove otherwise.
But Judge Schroeder determined that it would be “high risk” to show the video in court without first disproving the claims from the defence. He said the burden of proof is on the prosecution because the video is part of its case.
The judge – who asked whether the video will be “in its virginal state” – dismissed comparisons to using a magnifying glass, saying: “I don’t believe that.”
Mr Richards, appearing satisfied with the judge’s objections, asked Mr Binger what operating system the iPad used. Mr Binger said he did not know off the top of his head.
“Thank you!” Mr Richards responded, as if proving a point.
“It’s an iPad, Mark,” Mr Binger replied.
Prosecutor points Rittenhouse’s rifle at jury in closing argument
One of the most powerful moments in Mr Binger’s closing argument on 15 November came when he held up Mr Rittenhouse’s AR-15 and pointed it at the jury.
Mr Binger asserted that Mr Rittenhouse “revoked” his right to self-defence when he raised his rifle in a crowd.
“That is what provokes this entire incident,” Mr Binger said. “You cannot claim self-defence against a danger you create. If you’re the one threatening others, you lose the right to claim self-defence.”
Mr Binger accused Mr Rittenhouse of “concocting” the story that Mr Rosenbaum was reaching for the gun, saying there is no evidence to support that claim.
“The defendant decided to pull the trigger on his AR-15 four times,” the prosecutor said. “That is his decision. He is responsible for every bullet he shoots. He could have stopped and assessed, but went four times in .76 seconds.”
Prosecution uses fight scene from Patrick Swayze film Road House in closing argument
Prosecutors inserted a bit of pop culture in their closing statement by showing the court an image from the 1989 action film Road House starring Patrick Swayze.
The image, which shows Mr Swayze’s character Dalton preparing to fight his rival Jimmy (Marshall Teague) in a bar, was meant to emphasise the state’s argument that Mr Rittenhouse “brought a gun to a fistfight”.
“Now the defence wants you to think Joseph Rosenbaum was there to attack the defendant,” prosecutor Thomas Binger told the jury.
“We’ll never know what Joseph Rosenbaum was thinking because the defendant killed him, so we’re just guessing. But let’s assume for a minute, yeah, Joseph Rosenbaum is chasing after the defendant because he wants to do some physical harm to him. He’s an unarmed man.
“This is a bar fight. This is a fistfight. This is a fight that maybe many of you have been involved in. Two people hand-to-hand, were throwing punches, were pushing, were shoving, were whatever.
“But what you don’t do is you don’t bring a gun to a fistfight. What the defendant wants you to believe is because he’s the one who brought the gun, he gets to kill.”
Many reacting to the pop culture reference on Twitter criticised the prosecution for undermining the seriousness of the case.
“Is the prosecutor trying to get an acquittal?” one critic asked.
Judge Schroeder refers to juror in previous trial as ‘a Black’
Judge Schroeder came under scrutiny on 17 November he referred to a juror in a previous case he presided over as “a Black”.
He made the remark when discussing his decision to allow Mr Rittenhouse to pick the names of the six jurors who would not be joining the final jury of 12.
In a rambling explanation, Judge Schroeder said the last time he allowed a court clerk to pick names was about two decades ago in a trial with a Black defendant. He said there “a bad optic” after a clerk chose “a Black, the Black, the only Black” in the jury pool.
“There were 13 jurors, one of whom was Black. And when the clerk, the government official, drew the name out of the tumbler, it was a Black, the Black, the only Black. There was nothing wrong with it, it was all OK, but what do they talk about – optics, nowadays … That was a bad optic, I thought,” he said.
Judge Schroeder sings ‘Autumn Leaves’ to the jury
Judge Schroeder bizarrely broke out into song in front of jurors and the smiling defendant inside the courtroom on 17 November.
The unusual display came as the jury conducted its second day of deliberations on five felony charges against Mr Rittenhouse, who shot three people – two fatally – during a night of racial unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020.
Judge Schroeder explained the rules for jurors to review video evidence in the court before giving the media a chance to clear out, at which point he offered to “play some music” to pass the time.
As Mr Rittenhouse and his three defence attorneys stood at their desk and jurors took their seats, Judge Schroeder sang a few lines of Frank Sinatra’s ballad “Autumn Leaves” a capella.
Mr Rittenhouse and his lawyers appeared amused by the brief show, which drew criticism from Twitter users questioning whether the judge is taking his job seriously.
Judge Schroeder’s ‘God Bless The USA’ ringtone blares in the courtroom
Technology interrupted the courtroom on 10 November when Judge Schroeder’s phone went off with Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA”as the ringtone.
The patriotic anthem has been heavily used at rallies and campaign events headlined by former President Donald Trump.
Twitter users were quick to make the connection, with some referencing Mr Trump’s previous comments in support of Mr Rittenhouse.
Asked about his thoughts on the case in late August 2020, Mr Trump said of Mr Rittenhouse: “You saw the same tape as I saw, and he was trying to get away from them. I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would’ve been killed.”
Judge Schroeder’s ringtone interrupted the proceedings two more times in the span of five minutes on 12 November, when the prosecution and defence gathered to go through motions and jury instructions.
Judge Schroeder jokes about ‘Asian food’
In court on 11 November, Judge Schroeder came under fire when he made an unsavoury joke about Asian food and supply chain issues while discussing a lunch break.
“I hope the Asian food isn’t coming – it’s not, isn’t one of those boats in Long Beach harbour,” the judge quipped as the defence rested its case.
His apparent reference to “Asian food” coming from boats in congested southern California ports has been perceived as anti-Asian.
John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, told CNN that it “harms our community and puts us in the crosshairs of microaggressions as well as actual physical violence”.
Judge Schroeder uses a break to peruse cookie catalogue
Judge Schroeder’s fiery disposition on 10 November bore stark contrast to an image from the day before, when he was seen flipping through a cookie catalogue behind the bench.
A screengrab of him reading the 2021 edition of We Energies Cookie Book sent Twitter into a frenzy on 9 November.
The catalogue is themed around celebrating military service with recipes for patriotic crinkle cookies, peanut butter chip and jelly bars, chocolate pudding cookies and walnut caramel triangles penned by veterans and active service members.
Mixed verdicts of the judge’s unusual court pastime poured in – some light and some critical.
“The highlight of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial BY FAR was when the judge was just casually reading a catalog to order cookies,” tweeted journalist David Hookstead.
Writer Tara Dublin slammed the visual, saying: “From now on I think we should call Bruce Schroeder ‘Judge Christmas Cookie Catalog’ because that’s what he seems to care about more than justice for two dead men.”