KENOSHA, Wis. — The jurors in the Derek Chauvin murder trial in Minneapolis deliberated in April for 10 hours. 1995 saw the O.J. jury deliver a verdict. In less than four hours, Simpson’s trial was concluded.
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.
18-year-old Mr. Rittenhouse is currently on trial for first degree intentional homicide and other offenses after he fatally shot two men and maimed another during civil unrest in Kenosha (Wis.) in August 2020. He could spend the rest of his life in prison.
After the court had ended on Thursday, Mark Richards (a lawyer for Mr. Rittenhouse) seemed confused by the length and complexity of the deliberations. “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.
There were few guarantees throughout the building, but there was 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.”
Tuesday was the start of deliberations. On Wednesday, jurors sent Judge Bruce Schroeder a note and requested videos so that they could rewatch all three shootings. Thursday was a quiet day with no clues as to the nature of their discussions. They are taking place behind closed doors at the Kenosha County Courthouse. This limestone building was the focal point of protests after the police shooting of Jacob Blake fifteen months ago.
The length of the deliberations may indicate the complexity of charges that the jury must consider. Jurors are often asked to decide whether a defendant guilty or not of a single charge in many murder trials. But it is a complicated picture in Mr. Rittenhouse’s case.
Five criminal charges are against him: one count each of first-degree deliberate homicide in Anthony Huber’s death, 26; first degree reckless homicide, 36 in Joseph Rosenbaum’s death; one count each of attempted first-degree intention homicide and Gaige Grosskreutz’s shooting; and two counts each of first-degree reckless danger, for firing in the direction Richie McGinniss or an unidentified man.
Late this week, frustration was growing around Kenosha regarding the trial. It has snarled traffic downtown, and cast a pall across the city since Nov. 1.
Residents and business owners in Kenosha’s Uptown community said they were closely watching every stage of the trial. This is a diverse area that was most affected by the civil unrest following the August 2020 police shooting. They knew the details of the case against Mr. Rittenhouse, which Judge Schroeder decided to drop (illegal firearm possession); the number of protestors who gathered on the courthouse steps Thursday (a few dozen); as well as the name and contact information for Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, the prominent defense jury consultant.
Claude Hamilton, the owner of Sir Claude’s barbershop, sipped coffee on Thursday and said he was awaiting the verdict with anxiety.
He claimed that he saw a racial dual standard in the case and believed that Mr. Rittenhouse, a white man, was allowed to roam downtown Kenosha more freely with a semiautomatic gun than a Black teenager.
“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 is looming over the proceedings, as Judge Schroeder has yet not to rule on two defense motions requesting that he annul the trial. These motions allege that a prosecutor asked inappropriate question during cross-examination with Mr. Rittenhouse. They also claim that he failed in his duty to turn over a high quality version of a video to defense team before the trial. Wisconsin defense lawyers stated that prosecutors could appeal to the judge if they grant the mistrial.
Judge Schroeder called both the lawyers of the opposing sides into his courtroom. He stated that a producer for MSNBC had been following a bus with jurors from the courthouse the night before. The judge called it an “extremely serious matter” and said he was banning anyone affiliated with the cable network from the courthouse.
The judge smiled as he welcomed the jurors to his courtroom at 4 p.m. and told them that they could take his instructions to the jury home on Wednesday night. He also wished them a happy evening.
There are many high-profile precedents that show both acquittals or convictions following 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
Count 1 – First-degree reckless killing. Kyle Rittenhouse is accused of this crime in connection with the fatal shooting of Joseph D. Rosenbaum. Under Wisconsin law, the crime is defined as recklessly causing death under circumstances that show utter disregard for human life.
It takes juries days to convict or acquit. A Florida jury deliberated for 16 hours on George Zimmerman’s charges before acquitting him of second-degree murder in 2013.
California jurors took approximately 35 hours and nine days to acquit Robert Blake, an actor convicted of murdering his wife in 2005.
“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 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. Final verdict: The judge sided in favor of prosecutors and gave jurors access to the videos they requested on a laptop. Jurors could then watch the videos as they please.
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.
She added that this approach is more likely than a deadlocked jury.
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 claimed that he used those hours 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.”
Source: NY Times