KENOSHA, Wis. — The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse begins Monday with the challenging task of seating jurors who haven't already made up their minds about the man who shot three people, killing two, during a violent night of protests last summer.
Rittenhouse was 17 when he traveled from his home in Illinois, just across the Wisconsin border, during protests that broke out in August 2020 after a police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man.
Rittenhouse faces life in prison if he’s convicted on one of the homicide counts against him.
Judge Bruce Schroeder opened with a little bit of lightheartedness, calling out Jeopardy questions as the jury pool was getting settled. When everyone was seated, the official work began.
"We're looking, of course, at whether anybody is biased," Judge Schroeder said to the courtroom. "We're also going to look at some other factors that may work into whether you're suitable to sit as a juror in the case."
Jurors will be focused on deciding if Kyle Rittenhouse was acting in self-defense or is guilty of murder. 150 people have been summoned, the goal is to seat 20 jurors, a number that the judge says will be narrowed when it comes time for deliberation.
"I took a larger number than usual because this trial is going to last a couple of weeks," explained the judge. "That's what the lawyers tell me, I suspect they're estimating a little on the high side, which is what I want them to do."
34 potential jurors were questioned in earnest near the front of the courtroom. Each time someone is excused for cause, another potential juror will be added from the audience watching from behind the bar.
Some excusals could be sparked because of the immense attention this case has drawn. Judge Schroeder also pointed out that this case has become politicized along the way. Before the lunch recess on Monday, a handful of potential jurors told the judge that they would be unable to completely disregard anything they had seen or heard about the case and rely solely on the evidence presented during the trial.
Outside the Kenosha County courthouse, there is a visible increase in police presence and security. In a statement put out Friday, the Kenosha County Sheriff says the measures are meant to "ensure the safety of the public that has legal business in and around the courthouse campus as well as Civic Center employees while maintaining the integrity of the trial."
Judge Schroeder told the potential jury pool they can expect to begin at 9 a.m. each day and that there will be a break for lunch. Jury selection will continue into Tuesday, if necessary.
If you are planning to watch the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, there are a few key players.
Rittenhouse's defense attorneys include Mark Richards and Corey Chirafisi. They are based in Racine and Madison respectively. Both of them began their careers as prosecutors in Kenosha County.
The prosecutors include Kenosha County Assistant District Attorneys Thomas Binger and James Kraus.
"All of the lawyers are very experienced and talented individuals," said Patrick Cafferty, a local criminal defense attorney who will serve as TMJ4's legal analyst during the trial.
The judge in this case is Judge Bruce Schroeder, who has sat on the bench in Kenosha County since 1983.
"I suspect with my age and my longevity, I maybe have tried more murder cases than anyone in the state," Judge Schroeder said during a hearing on Sept. 17.
Judge Schroeder has heard high-profile cases before, including the case of Mark Jensen, who was previously convicted of poisoning his wife in 1998. A new trial has since been ordered in this case.
The judge made national headlines this week for the word he won't let attorneys use when referring to the men Rittenhouse is accused of shooting.
"He most definitely said you can’t use the term victim, and that is consistent with my observation of him in just about every case I’ve ever tried," Cafferty said.
"As far as his rulings on the rioters, looters, that kind of language, he didn’t say, I'm going to allow the defense to call them that," Cafferty said. "What he said was basically, let’s hear the evidence, and if the evidence is going to support that kind of vocabulary, then sure, they'll be allowed to do that in the course of their closing arguments."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.