(KENOSHA, Wis.) — Kyle Rittenhouse played a direct role Tuesday in deciding, albeit randomly, who will be the final 12 jurors that will decide his innocence or guilt in the murder trial over his killing two protesters and injuring a third last summer.
At the direction of Circuit Judge Bruce Schroder, Rittenhouse’s attorney placed slips of paper into a raffle drum with the numbers of each of the 18 jurors on it who sat through the two-week trial. The drum was on the window ledge for the duration of the trial. It was brought to Rittenhouse’s defense table on Tuesday.
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Rittenhouse then chose six pieces of paper from a drum. The jury was watching and Rittenhouse read the following: 11, 584, 14, 45., 9, 52.
The jurors won’t be among the final 12 who were deliberating the case. They were however required to stay in courthouse at the request the defense until the verdict was returned by the jury.
Robert Jambois, Portage County Assistant District attorney was in Kenosha as a prosecutor when Mark Jensen was tried for murder in front of Schroeder in 2008. Jensen was accused of poisoning and smothering his wife in one of the highest-profile cases to land in Schroeder’s courtroom before Rittenhouse. Jambois claimed that alternates were identified by selecting numbers from a tumbler, but Jensen was the one who pulled them from the chute.
“I’ve never heard of a defendant pulling the names,” Jambois said. “That’s done by a member of the court.”
Julius Kim, a former Milwaukee County assistant district attorney, said he’s never seen a judge allow a defendant to draw the numbers to determine who the final members of a jury will be.
“It’s not unusual to select alternates by lot,” Kim said. ”[But] I’ve never seen a judge allow a defendant to draw those names. That might be a little unconventional but there’s nothing wrong with it that I could really see.”
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Milwaukee-based defense attorney Tom Grieve also said he’s never seen a defendant do that, “but it’s a shoulder shrug for me.”
“I don’t really care,” Grieve said. “The point is they have some system to arrive at 12 jurors. It’s certainly unusual but I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
There’s no prohibition on having the defendant draw the numbers of alternate jurors, but the general practice is to have the clerk of courts do it, said Ion Meyn, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School. “This is not really a well-litigated area,” Meyn said.
If it is common practice for that judge, prosecutors may decide it’s not worth objecting to, Meyn said.
“Too risky,” Mehn said of objecting. “Too many down sides to that.”
Rittenhouse’s jury pool started with 20 members. One juror was fired for medical reasons, and the other was released after telling a joke about the case to a bailiff.
Minutes after Rittenhouse’s numbers were drawn, the jury started deliberations. In case of questions, the judge requested that both parties remain within 10 minutes from the courthouse.
Rittenhouse, who killed two people and left a third injured on Kenosha’s streets last summer, faces many charges. Jacob Blake was a Black man who was fatally shot by police.
Rittenhouse (17 years old) claims that he was acting in self-defense. Rittenhouse could be sentenced to life imprisonment for this most severe charge.
Schroeder, the judge in Rittenhouse’s trial, is the longest-serving circuit court judge in Wisconsin. The 75-year-old’s methods have drawn attention throughout the trial, including reading trivia questions to jurors at the outset, professing his lack of knowledge about modern technology, asking for applause for veterans on Veterans Day as a defense witness who served in the military was about to testify and sometimes speaking angrily at prosecutors when they pursued lines of questioning he had barred.
Bauer and Richmond were reporting from Madison, Wisconsin.