MADISON, Wis. (AP) – The judge presiding over Kyle Rittenhouse’s homicide trial opened jury selection Monday with a round of Jeopardy-like trivia, assured potential jurors he doesn’t have COVID-19 and reached back to the fall of the Roman Empire to emphasize the gravity of their duty.
Kenosha County Judge Bruce Schroeder made a lot of laughs in courtroom. There were also some cringes on social networks. he asked potential jurors trivia questions and provided commentary. When the answer to one was the movie “Psycho,” the 75-year-old Schroeder quipped: “Heard of it.”
One potential juror told Schroeder he had nasal surgery scheduled in 10 days. The judge asked him “What would be better, to be here with me, or have your nose resected?” The man laughed and replied that he would consider it.
The tenor of Monday’s hearing was no surprise to one attorney who has appeared before Schroeder.
Michael Cicchini is a Kenosha-based defense lawyer who said that the start of jury selection can be “a logistical disaster.” Jurors are given seating charts and other paperwork, and it takes time for them to organize. Schroeder traditionally spends that time playing trivia with the jury pool until the attorneys are ready, he said.
Schroeder is presiding over one of the biggest trials of his career. Rittenhouse, 18, of Antioch, Illinois, shot three people during a protest against police brutality in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020. Protests broke out after a black police officer shot Jacob Blake in the back during an incident at home. Blake was fighting with officers and had a weapon; the county prosecutor declined to bring him to trial.
Rittenhouse claims he went to Kenosha in order to protect businesses against arson and looting. Joseph Rosenbaum, and Anthony Huber were both killed in the shooting. Rittenhouse also wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, a third victim.
Rittenhouse claims he fired in self defense. Conservatives across the country have rallied behind him and held him up as a bulwark to chaotic protesters and a sign of gun rights. Liberals and activists also see him as a domestic terrorist, claiming that he made an already volatile situation more difficult by showing up with his gun.
Previously, Schroeder‘s highest-profile case was the 2008 homicide trial of Mark Jensen, who was accused of poisoning and smothering his wife. Jensen was convicted, but appellate courts and the state Supreme Court ruled that Schroeder wrongly admitted as evidence a letter Jensen’s wife gave a neighbor saying if anything happened to her Jensen would be responsible. A new trial has been set for 2022.
In 2018, Schroeder sentenced a woman convicted of shoplifting to tell the manager of any store she entered that she was on supervision for theft, saying embarrassment can deter criminality. The sentence was overturned by a state appeals court.
Schroeder drew scrutiny last week when he told attorneys that Rosenbaum, Huber and Grosskreutz cannot be referred to in court as victims, calling the word “loaded.” But he rejected a prosecution request to block any reference to them as “rioters,” “looters” or “arsonists,” saying the defense can do so if supported by evidence.
On Monday, Schroeder suffered a coughing fit then reassured potential jurors he had been vaccinated three times against COVID-19. He also apologised for his disorganization, stating that jury selection does not usually take place on Monday mornings.
Schroeder finally began jury selection with a story about the war in Vietnam, comparing jury duty to being drafted, saying no one would be excused for minor reasons. He asked for applause from any veterans.
Cicchini said Schroeder traditionally gives brief speeches about the history of trials to impress upon jurors the importance of their task. he referred to the fall of Rome in explaining the system’s development on Monday.
“When Rome fell, the world changed dramatically,” the judge said, before launching into more history about how cases were decided more than 2,000 years ago. He mentioned priests blessing trials where defendants were required to burn coals or boil water. This was a sign that they were innocent.
Schroeder also cautioned that media coverage of the case may have misled potential jurors.
” This case has become very politically,” he stated. It was involved in politics during the last election year. You could read everything about the case from people across all political spectrums. They are not experts. They don’t know what they’re going know. This is what I mean: the jury members who will hear the actual evidence in this case .”
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