Jury in Kyle Rittenhouse Trial Has Deliberated for 23 Hours With No Verdict
The jury in the Kyle Rittenhouse case has been talking for 23 hours — and counting.
After three days, the seven women and five men who are deciding Mr. Rittenhouse’s fate in a Kenosha courtroom have yet to reach a consensus, a strikingly long deliberation that suggests the jurors may have clashed on the weighty decisions before them.
Mr. Rittenhouse, 18, is on trial for first-degree intentional homicide and other charges after fatally shooting two men and maiming another during civil unrest in Kenosha, Wis., in August 2020. He faces the possibility of life in prison.
Mark Richards, a lawyer for Mr. Rittenhouse, seemed confounded by the length of the deliberations after court broke for the day on Thursday. “They’re either working to get a consensus — maybe they’re dead-even split,” Mr. Richards said of the jury as he left the courthouse.
Throughout the building, there were few certainties, but much speculation.
Mr. Richards said that when he looked at the faces of the jurors as they sat in the courtroom at the end of the day, he thought, “They’re six-six split.”
Deliberations began on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the jurors sent notes to Judge Bruce Schroeder and requested videos so they could rewatch footage from all three shootings. On Thursday, there were few clues into the nature of their discussions, which are occurring behind closed doors in the Kenosha County Courthouse, the limestone building that was the center of demonstrations following the police shooting of Jacob Blake 15 months ago.
The length of the deliberations could be an indication of the complexity of the charges the jury must sift through. In many murder trials, jurors are asked to decide whether a defendant is guilty or not guilty of a single count. But it is a complicated picture in Mr. Rittenhouse’s case.
He faces five criminal counts: one count of first-degree intentional homicide in the death of Anthony Huber, 26; first-degree reckless homicide in the death of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36; one count of attempted first-degree intentional homicide in the shooting of Gaige Grosskreutz; and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment, for firing at Richie McGinniss and an unknown man.
By late this week, frustration was building around Kenosha about the trial, which has snarled traffic downtown and cast a pall over the city since it began on Nov. 1.
In the Uptown community of Kenosha, a diverse neighborhood that was hardest hit during the civil unrest over the police shooting in August 2020, residents and business owners said they were closely following every turn of the trial. They knew details: a charge against Mr. Rittenhouse that Judge Schroeder had this week decided to drop (illegal gun possession); how many protesters were gathering on the courthouse steps on Thursday (a few dozen); and even the name of the high-profile jury consultant for the defense (Jo-Ellan Dimitrius).
Claude Hamilton, the owner of Sir Claude’s barbershop, sipped coffee on Thursday and said he was awaiting the verdict with anxiety.
He said that he saw a racial double standard in the case, believing that Mr. Rittenhouse, who is white, was allowed to roam the streets of downtown Kenosha with a semiautomatic rifle more freely than a Black teenager would have.
“If he had been a person of color, he would have been convicted a long time ago,” Mr. Hamilton said.
The possibility of a mistrial looms over the deliberations, as Judge Schroeder has yet to rule on two defense motions asking him to void the trial. The motions assert that a prosecutor asked inappropriate questions during cross-examination of Mr. Rittenhouse and failed to turn over a high-quality version of a video to the defense team before the trial. Wisconsin defense lawyers said prosecutors could appeal if the judge grants the mistrial.
On Thursday, Judge Schroeder called lawyers for both sides into his courtroom and said that a producer for MSNBC had followed a bus carrying jurors home from the courthouse the previous night. The judge called it an “extremely serious matter” and said he was banning anyone affiliated with the cable network from the courthouse.
But the judge seemed cheerful as he gathered the jurors in his courtroom just after 4 p.m., told them that they could bring his instructions to the jury home on Thursday night as they requested, and wished them a good evening.
There are high-profile precedents for both acquittals and convictions after lengthy deliberations.
The only hints into the jurors’ minds have been their requests to rewatch parts of the copious video footage shown at trial and for more copies of the jury instructions.
The Criminal Charges Against Kyle Rittenhouse
Juries routinely take days to either acquit or convict. A Florida jury weighed charges against George Zimmerman for more than 16 hours before acquitting him in 2013 of counts including second-degree murder for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin.
It took about 35 hours over nine days for jurors in California to acquit the actor Robert Blake in 2005 of murdering his wife.
“You can’t read anything into it in terms of the length of the deliberations other than it’s so intensely stressful for the parties,” said Ion Meyn, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School.
Mr. Meyn noted that Mr. Rittenhouse’s defense has sought to limit the number of times jurors could rewatch videos from the chaotic night in 2020 while prosecutors have argued for unlimited viewing. That makes sense, Mr. Meyn said, because Mr. Rittenhouse’s lawyers would more likely want jurors to focus on their client’s testimony. Ultimately, the judge sided with prosecutors and gave the jurors a laptop with the videos they had requested, allowing them to watch as they pleased.
As the hours have passed in Mr. Rittenhouse’s case, long stretches with no word from the jury have been punctuated by the parties being called back to court for arguments over motions and other matters.
The time that has passed and the jury’s request for video evidence suggest the panel is using a meticulous, evidence-based approach, said Valerie Hans, a professor at Cornell Law School who has extensively studied the jury system.
Juries will sometimes take a “verdict-driven” approach in which people state their opinions early in deliberations, she said. “If you say right away ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty,’ you’ve made something of a public commitment” to a position that is less likely to change, Ms. Hans said.
That approach is more likely to lead to a deadlocked jury, she added.
Not knowing what jurors are thinking takes a toll, said John A. Birdsall, a Milwaukee-based lawyer who is not involved in Mr. Rittenhouse’s trial but has endured jury deliberations lasting up to a week.
He said he spent those stretches trying to work on his other cases.
“It’s very nerve-racking. You’re trying to parse every question that comes down to gauge where they’re at,” he said. “But, of course, it’s all just guesswork.”