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The Media Prepare Their Readers for a Possible Kyle Rittenhouse Acquittal

Kyle Rittenhouse Kenosha trial shooting
Kyle Rittenhouse attends a pre-trial hearing at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. (Mark Hertzberg/Pool Photo via AP)


Jury selection begins tomorrow in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse who shot three people, killing two of them during riots following a police shooing in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year. That means we’re all going to be inundated with a rehashing of not only what happened that night, but also with lots of legal hot takes — intellectually honest or not — on the use of armed self-defense and what the law really says.

Rittenhouse and his attorneys are, obviously, claiming the shootings were acts of self-defense. That’s in no small part due to the extensive video evidence that shows the 17-year-old was defending himself from attackers each time he pulled the trigger of his rifle that night.

In their framing of the upcoming trial, mainstream media outlets are — gently — preparing their readers for the fact that much of the law is on Rittenhouse’s side.

The experienced journalists at the eminently credible Associated Press are acknowledging the evidentiary hill prosecutors have to climb. In an article titled Legal experts see strong self-defense claim for Rittenhouse they note that . . .

Legal experts say under Wisconsin law he has a strong case. What’s less clear is whether prosecutors will be able to persuade the jury that Rittenhouse created a deadly situation by showing up in Kenosha with an AR-style semiautomatic rifle — and that in doing so he forfeited his claim to self-defense. …

Rittenhouse’s attorneys say he came to Kenosha not to hurt anyone but to protect businesses from damage and looting. And they say the people he shot left him no choice.

They’re expected to highlight Rosenbaum’s pursuit of Rittenhouse, and Huber and Grosskreutz subsequently coming at him. The defense has said Rosenbaum and Huber tried to wrest Rittenhouse’s rifle away, leading Rittenhouse to fear he would be shot with his own weapon.

As for whether he should have been in Kenosha at all . . .

Under self-defense law and precedent, Rittenhouse’s motives for being in Kenosha are irrelevant to whether he had a legal right to shoot when threatened, some legal experts say. What matters is what happened in the minutes surrounding the shooting, Branca said.

“If I had a 17-year-old-son, I would not encourage him to engage in this kind of behavior. But poor judgment is not a crime,” said Branca, who thinks Rittenhouse has a strong case for self-defense.

Kenosha Rittenhouse shooting trial judge
Circuit Court Judge Bruce E. Schroeder listens during the pretrial hearing of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha Circuit Court, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, in Kenosha, Wis. Rittenhouse shot three people, killing two of them, during a protest in Kenosha in August 2020. (Mark Hertzberg/Pool Photo via AP)

The culture warriors at the New York Times, however, after acknowledging the statutes involved, want their readers to know the trial will be about more than just the law.

“It’s a battle of the narratives,” said Steven Wright, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin. “People will either see this as a young man who came across state lines with a weapon intending to do trouble, or people will come with the belief that he came here with a medical kit and attempted to defend the law and defend people.” …

Mary D. M. Fan, a law professor at the University of Washington, said that while the trial would focus on the definition of self-defense, it would also be about the Second Amendment, race, politics and the role of free speech.

“Let’s be real — why is this such a polarizing case?” she said. “It’s also a referendum on fiercely different views on protests that have rocked this nation.”

In addition to the facts of the case and the law, the outcome could turn on whether a jury is willing to risk the possibility of more violence should Rittenhouse be acquitted. It only takes one juror.

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