law, true crime

My thoughts on Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial…

This morning, Bill and I were talking about Kyle Rittenhouse, who’s been all over the news this week. Rittenhouse sobbed during his testimony about the night of August 25, 2020, when he killed two men and wounded another. Rittenhouse, who was 17 years old at the time, had traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin from his home in Antioch, Illinois. The teenager had gone to Kenosha to help “protect” property and act as a medic as protesters flooded the street, angered that police had shot and wounded a Black man named Jacob Blake.

From what I’ve read, the protest had become violent and chaotic. Protesters burned down several buildings and were destroying police cars. And yet, there was Kyle, driven by his mother over state lines, and carrying an AR-15 rifle, purchased for him by a friend who was over 18. At 17, Kyle Rittenhouse was too young to buy the weapon himself.

According to his testimony, Kyle Rittenhouse was being chased by the protesters he ended up shooting with the AR-15. He says he was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and later injured Gaige Grosskreutz. Although Rittenhouse has maintained that his actions were done in self-defense, prosecutors have argued that Rittenhouse “created the peril through his own reckless actions that caused others to fear for their own lives and led directly to the violence.” However, according to the article I linked, “mountains of video and photo evidence appear to show Rosenbaum acting aggressively and chasing Rittenhouse, Huber striking him with a skateboard and Grosskreutz pointing a pistol at him.”

So this wasn’t a case of a person cold-bloodedly walking up to someone and shooting them. This wasn’t a situation in which the victims were completely blameless. No matter what I might think about Kyle Rittenhouse’s actions or the wisdom of his decision to attend the protest with a weapon, the fact is, there’s evidence that he was being attacked by the men he shot. And that really weakens the prosecution’s case, in my view.

When I first heard about this case, I wondered what in the hell made Kyle Rittenhouse think his “services” were needed at a protest in another state? Why did he feel like he needed a weapon, when he was supposedly there to “help” protect property and tend to the injured? What was his mother thinking when she brought her 17 year old son to Kenosha and turned him loose on the streets?

According to an article published by the University of Rochester Medical Center, “the rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so.” Kyle, at age 18, still has several years to go before he’s “fully baked”. The article continues:

…recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.

In teens’ brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing—and not always at the same rate. That’s why when teens have overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.

I have read that Kyle Rittenhouse has been associating with white supremacists. Even if that’s true, I remember that he’s still a teenager, and is likely highly impressionable and impulsive. That doesn’t make his actions right, nor does it mean that I think he should get off “free and clear”. But I do think it mitigates his case somewhat. There must be a reason why Kyle Rittenhouse has ended up in this situation. There is a backstory that leads up to his decision to try to offer “help”, where clearly it wasn’t in his best interests to do so. Again, he’s still a teenager… and he obviously doesn’t yet have the more solid judgment or reasoning skills that most responsible adults have.

According to the NPR article I linked earlier in this post, a number of legal experts are saying that they think Kyle Rittenhouse will be acquitted of most of the charges. Prosecutors are now trying to get Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder to allow jurors to consider lesser charges. This is because the prosecution’s evidence has been as useful for the defense as it has been for the prosecution.

In fact, Gaige Grosskreutz, who, as the lone survivor, was supposed to be the prosecution’s “star witness”, has made several inconsistent statements. He’s also admitted that he was, himself, carrying a pistol on an expired permit on the evening Rittenhouse shot and wounded him.

Defense attorney, Corey Chirafisi, cross-examined Grosskreutz, and asked “It wasn’t until you pointed your gun at him — advanced on him with your gun, now your hands down, pointed at him — that he fired, right?”

And Mr. Grosskreutz responded, “Correct.” as one of the prosecutors put his head in his hands.

Yeah… I wouldn’t say that’s a good look for the prosecution. It doesn’t excuse the fact that Kyle Rittenhouse had no business being involved in the protest, but Grosskreutz doesn’t exactly inspire sympathy when he admits that he had a gun, too, and wasn’t carrying it legally.

Yikes.

Rittenhouse took the stand in his own defense, and sobbed so hard that Judge Schroeder called a recess. He testified that he reached for the rifle as “Rosenbaum chased him and reached for his rifle, as Huber struck him with the skateboard and as Grosskreutz advanced on him with the pistol.” Rittenhouse said that he feared for his life. Frankly, based on that description, and especially considering his age, I can’t blame him for being terrified that the three men might kill him.

When Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger cross-examined Rittenhouse, he asked, “You understand that when you point your AR-15 at someone, it may make them feel like you are going to kill them, correct?”

And Rittenhouse responded, “Mr. Rosenbaum was chasing me. I pointed my gun at him, and that did not deter him. He could have ran away instead of trying to take my gun from me, but he kept chasing me. It didn’t stop him,”

My guess, not having been there, but having personally experienced being hopped up on adrenaline, that none of the people involved in this altercation were thinking straight. They were probably all in a state of “fight or flight”, brought on by extreme fear, aggression, and an overload of testosterone and adrenaline.

Given that, I don’t see Kyle Rittenhouse as a cold-blooded murderer who is undeserving of mercy, even if I am personally disgusted by his politics, and I realize that he’s now killed two men. I also don’t believe that most people who commit serious crimes when they are minors should have their lives ruined. While I’m certain Kyle knew that killing is wrong and against the law, he didn’t, and still doesn’t, have the mind of an adult. He proved that his judgment wasn’t very sound when he decided to attend the protest alone, stayed out after curfew during a protest, lied about being an EMT, and carried a weapon that he wasn’t legally permitted to have.

But the case hasn’t gone very well for the prosecution, which is why they’re asking the judge to allow jurors to consider lesser charges. I think the lesser charges are probably reasonable, but based on what I’ve read about the judge, I have a feeling he might not allow it. He seems somewhat sympathetic to Rittenhouse. Edited to add, Bill says the judge is allowing the lesser charges to be considered. Of course, the final verdict is up to the jury.

Hmm… this doesn’t look so good for the prosecution.

It will be interesting to see what happens in this case. A verdict is expected next week. Based on what I’ve read, both about the case itself, and the judge involved, I have a feeling Mr. Rittenhouse will not be spending long years in prison, as a lot of people seem to hope he will. While I agree that he was wrong to kill two men and wound another, and he had absolutely NO BUSINESS being at the protest in the first place, I don’t think he should rot in prison. I also hope he wises up about the right wing white supremacist types who have championed his cause. If he continues to hang around with them, there’s a good chance he will end up in trouble again. And the next time, the case against him might be much more compelling.

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3 thoughts on “My thoughts on Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial…

  1. I have a feeling that Mr. Rittenhouse will be acquitted. And considering how this judge has ruled in this case so far (in addition to all of the factors that weaken the prosecution’s position), I doubt he’ll agree to allow the jury to consider lesser charges.

    I totally get what you say about Rittenhouse’s adolescent brain, and how the fact that human brains (especially male brains) aren’t fully developed until they’re between 23 and 25 years old. The “young adult” age range – 18-25 – is when most people are still malleable and most susceptible to all kinds of indoctrination. That’s why, other than stamina and other physical factors, the armed forces of any country recruit or draft men and women in that age group. It’s easier to train impressionable kids, plus it’s probably easier to break any undesirable (for the military) habits at that age than it is to re-educate a 30-year-old.

    I wonder, as you do, what Rittenhouse’s back story is. Surely, someone in his family espouses views that prompted this kid to arm himself and get into a situation for which he was not prepared. Are other adults in his family right-wingers? And what about the mom’s role in this affair? So many questions, so many factors involved.

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