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VICTOR JOECKS: Rittenhouse’s self-defense claims bolstered by prosecution witnesses

Most criminal trials don’t have Perry Mason-style moments in which stunned spectators gasp out loud. Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial has had at least two — and they’ve bolstered his self-defense claims.

In August 2020, rioters rampaged through Kenosha, Wisconsin, after the shooting of Jacob Blake. These were the riots at which a CNN reporter stood in front of burning cars as a chyron on the screen read, “Fiery but mostly peaceful protests.”

Rittenhouse, then a 17-year-old Illinois resident, said he came to Wisconsin to protect property. He carried a medical kit to offer aid during the riots.

Unfortunately, things took a deadly turn. On Aug. 25, 2020, Rittenhouse was armed with a semiautomatic rifle. That night, he shot and killed two people and wounded another. Wisconsin prosecutors have charged Rittenhouse with two counts of first-degree homicide, attempted homicide and other offenses. Rittenhouse claims he acted in self-defense.

In the aftermath of high-profile events such as this, there can be a tendency to treat those involved as avatars for how one feels about the larger issues involved. That’s a mistake. People are individuals and should be judged for their actions. They shouldn’t be deemed guilty or innocent based on group identity.

But the fury directed at Rittenhouse was quick and intense. The day after the shooting, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., tweeted that Rittenhouse was a “white supremacist domestic terrorist.” It’s worth noting that the people Rittenhouse shot were white. There’s also no evidence linking Rittenhouse to white supremacy. No matter.

On the presidential campaign trail, Joe Biden implied that Rittenhouse was a white supremacist. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., tweeted he was a “domestic terrorist (who) executed two people.”

The narrative was set, and God help those who dared to disagree. A hacker released the names of people who contributed to Rittenhouse’s legal defense fund. A Virginia police officer was fired over his $25 donation.

But there’s a reason the United States has trial by jury, not mob justice. Sometimes the facts don’t fit the version of events offered by powerful politicians. That’s certainly the case here.

The first person Rittenhouse shot was Joseph Rosenbaum. Video shows Rittenhouse running away with Rosenbaum in pursuit. Richie McGinniss, a videographer for the Daily Caller who was covering the riots, was trying to catch up.

McGinniss’ testimony is vital to understanding if Rittenhouse acted maliciously or in self-defense. Called by the prosecution, McGinniss testified that he saw Rosenbaum try to grab Rittenhouse’s weapon. That’s helpful for a self-defense claim. The prosecutor tried to recover by badgering McGinniss that he couldn’t have known what Rosenbaum was thinking.

“Well, he said, ‘F— you’ and then he reached for the weapon,” McGinniss testified.

Whoa.

Then came testimony from Gaige Grosskreutz, who Rittenhouse shot in the arm.

“It wasn’t until you, pointing your gun at him (Rittenhouse), advanced on him with your gun — now your hands down pointed at him — that he fired?” Rittenhouse’s lawyer asked Grosskreutz.

“Correct,” Grosskreutz answered.

Courtroom video then showed a man at the prosecutor’s table literally holding his head in his hand. Yes, that’s a face palm moment for the prosecution.

There’s no telling what a jury will do. But the Rittenhouse case shows why defendants must be tried in a courtroom, not in the court of public opinion.

Contact Victor Joecks at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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