By Mark Guarino, Kim Bellware and Mark Berman
November 16, 2021|Updated November 16, 2021 at 8:12 p.m. EST
KENOSHA, Wis. — Jurors in Kyle Rittenhouse’s homicide trial concluded their first day of deliberations on Tuesday without reaching a verdict in the high-profile case that has fueled bitter debate over the line between armed self-defense and violent vigilantism.
Rittenhouse, 18, is charged with homicide and attempted homicide after shooting three people, two of them fatally, during the August 2020 unrest that erupted in Kenosha after a police shooting of a Black man. The teenager has pleaded not guilty and could face life in prison if convicted.
After the jury spent more than seven hours deliberating, Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed them shortly before 6 p.m. local time, saying he was told they wanted to break for the evening. Jurors are not being sequestered, so Schroeder told them not to discuss the case and to return Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. Central time to continue deliberations.
The jury’s decision to continue deliberating for a second day extends the polarizing case, which was dissected over 10 days of arguments and witness testimony. Rittenhouse, then 17, went into Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020, as the city was rocked by riots after a White police officer shot Jacob Blake. Armed civilians, Rittenhouse among them, flooded into Kenosha, saying they wanted to help provide protection for businesses.
During brief confrontations that night, Rittenhouse fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26. He also shot and injured Gaige Grosskreutz, then 26. Prosecutors say Rittenhouse was a vigilante who went out looking for trouble and provoked violence. Rittenhouse and his attorneys argue he was under attack and had to protect himself.
During his testimony last week, Rittenhouse said Rosenbaum and Huber had grabbed his gun, while Grosskreutz acknowledged on the stand that he was shot while pointing his own pistol at the teenager.
Rittenhouse’s self-defense claims are pivotal to the case. Jurors were given instructions that Rittenhouse can claim self-defense if the teenager reasonably believed he was facing a serious threat and had to use that force to protect himself. The jurors also have to find that Rittenhouse did not provoke the attacks.
The dozen jurors now considering Rittenhouse’s case include seven men and five women, all of them White except one man.
Mark Richards, one of Rittenhouse’s attorneys, said he felt “terrible” on Tuesday morning because he had no read on the verdict, though he acknowledged that any outcome would undoubtedly lead to further acrimony.
“No matter the verdict, there will be anger on one side and happiness on the other, and that’s not right,” he said during a brief interview in the courthouse.
Thomas Binger, one of the prosecutors, signaled Tuesday afternoon that his office would not grant interviews after the jury reached a verdict.
Jurors did not ask any significant questions throughout the day, only requesting more copies of the written jury instructions. Those instructions function as a road map for jurors in outlining the self-defense law they need to consider, as well as the different counts facing Rittenhouse.
The other charges he faces include two counts of recklessly endangering others. Jurors can also consider lesser charges in two of the shootings. Rittenhouse had also previously faced counts of improperly possessing a gun and being out after curfew, but both were dismissed.
Legal observers said the length of deliberations may just be a result of jurors in a high-profile trial carefully digging through all of the evidence, testimony and counts they have to consider.
“I wouldn’t draw too much of a conclusion. … There could be any number of reasons” for the extended deliberations, said Richard Frankel, a law professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “There’s a lot of evidence to go through and it’s a long trial. The opening and closing were long, there was a lot of fatigue.”
Jurors know there is a big spotlight on the case, so that might “make them want to be particularly thoughtful and careful,” said Shari Seidman Diamond, a law professor at Northwestern University. “I would have been shocked if they had come in quickly. Because even if there was substantial agreement, a bunch of charges mean there is a lot to go through.”
“There is no typical deliberation time,” she said.
Still, there could be some reasons why the jury might not reach a verdict after one day, said Michael O’Hear, a law professor at Marquette University. There could be a “significant division of opinion on the jury,” he said. The length of deliberations could also signal that jurors are approaching each count as related to a distinct event that might warrant a different verdict, he said.
O’Hear said the longer jurors deliberate, the more he expects a split verdict, with Rittenhouse convicted on some counts and acquitted on others. In that sense, he said, longer deliberations could be good for prosecutors, since “a mixed verdict is a pretty good scenario for the prosecution at this point.”
But O’Hear acknowledged that theories about what is happening during deliberations are just guesswork. What jurors do while they deliberate, he said, “is always a matter of some mystery and speculation.”
While jurors deliberated, the mood inside and outside the courthouse were starkly different. While the courthouse was calm and quiet on Tuesday, a small but vocal cluster of demonstrators gathered outside, some supporting Rittenhouse and others opposing him.
A few hours after deliberations began, faith leaders gathered in Library Park, not far from the courthouse, to pray for reconciliation, healing and closure, no matter the verdict. Looming over the gathering were last year’s riots, which left damaging scars still visible in parts of the city.
“People are still reeling from last summer,” Rabbi Dena Feingold of Beth Hillel Temple in Kenosha said after the vigil. “I think people are thinking, ‘Will we have to go through that again?’”