KENOSHA, Wis. — As protesters chanted and beat drums outside the Kenosha County courthouse, jurors deliberated over the fate of Kyle Rittenhouse for nearly 8 1/2 hours Tuesday before stopping for the day without a verdict.
The panel — consisting of seven women and five men — offered few insights into their discussions, sending only two inscrutable notes throughout the day. In their initial request, made shortly after they entered the jury room, they asked for 11 copies of the first six pages of jury instructions.
Their second note, sent about six hours into their deliberations, asked for the remainder of the pages. Kenosha County Judge Bruce Schroeder granted both requests.
Eighteen jurors listened to the case, though only 12 have been tapped to reach a verdict. Before deliberations began Tuesday morning, Rittenhouse pulled six numbers from an old-fashioned lottery tumbler that is original to the 100-year-old courtroom, and those six people were designated as alternates.
Though Rittenhouse’s role in picking the alternate jurors’ numbers drew questions on social media, courthouse observers said it was standard practice in Schroeder’s courtroom. The judge himself spoke about it outside the jury’s presence before court ended for the day.
“That’s been the practice of this court for at least 20 years,” he said.
As jurors entered the courtroom before then leaving for the evening, one female juror turned to another and said, “It has been a long day.” The sentiment echoed the exhaustion of many, including the families of the men Rittenhouse fatally shot.
Anthony Huber’s great-aunt Susan Hughes spent much of the day sitting on a bench outside the courtroom with Huber’s girlfriend, Hannah Gittings, and Joseph Rosenbaum’s fiance, Kariann Swart.
“We are wary and hoping for a good night’s sleep,” Hughes told the Chicago Tribune as she left the courthouse.
While the predominantly white jury debated the very specific legal question at the heart of the teen’s self-defense case, protesters outside the courthouse argued over the broader issues of gun rights and racial inequities that have loomed large over the case from the onset.
Rittenhouse, then a 17-year-old resident of Antioch, Illinois, volunteered to patrol downtown Kenosha in August 2020 amid turmoil surrounding the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man left partially paralyzed after being shot by a white police officer during a domestic disturbance call days earlier. Prosecutors later declined to charge the officer with wrongdoing.
Carrying an AR-15-style rifle that police say a friend illegally purchased for him, Rittenhouse fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz during the third night of unrest in the city. Rittenhouse is charged with reckless homicide, intentional homicide and attempted intentional homicide related to his actions toward the men, respectively.
Rittenhouse, who faces five felony charges for his actions that night, has pleaded not guilty and said he shot the men in self-defense.
Schroeder has given Rittenhouse wide latitude to present his defense, offering rulings that local attorneys say are standard for the longtime jurist. For some watching on television — particularly many people of color — the case has become a symbol of racial inequities in the justice system when it comes to who has the ability, and money, to tell their side of the story.
“We cannot have two forms of justice,” said Bishop Tavis Grant, national field director with the Chicago-based Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, who has spent several days in Kenosha protesting. “There cannot be a Black form and a white form. We want equal protection under the law.”
Demonstrations have been low-key throughout the trial, but they began to intensify as the jury deliberated. At one point, a group on the courthouse steps chanted “Black Lives Matter,” while a man on a bullhorn needled them about Rosenbaum’s criminal history.
There were a few brief physical altercations between protesters, mostly pushing and finger pointing. No injuries were reported and no arrests were made before the courthouse closed for the day, according to Sgt. David Wright of the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department.
Most who have showed up over the last two weeks have pressed for Rittenhouse’s conviction, but Emily Cahill, a member of the Will County Young Republicans, came up to Kenosha with signs that read “BLM and antifa are here 2 intimidate” and “Self-defense is not a crime.”
That drew a heated response from the more numerous pro-conviction demonstrators, though the tension didn’t go beyond harsh words. Cahill said she wasn’t deterred by being in the minority.
“(Rittenhouse) came out here to protect the community and he was put into a situation where he had to defend himself,” she said. “I hope and I pray he is found not guilty.”
The Rittenhouse contingent grew throughout the afternoon, and one flashpoint came when Missouri senate candidate Mark McCloskey and his wife Patricia, who gained notoriety last year after waving guns at Black Lives Matter protesters outside their St. Louis home, approached Kenosha activists who were denouncing them as outsiders during a news conference.
A scrum of reporters and photographers quickly formed around the couple, much to the exasperation of Leaders of Kenosha executive director Tanya McLean.
“The media is giving them attention, and then we wonder why we have all the division,” she said through a megaphone.
She ended her remarks with a call for calm.
“If people are coming to this town for other reasons than peace, we don’t want them here,” she said. “Stay away. You’re not welcome.”
Though some have expressed fear about the possibility of renewed rioting after the verdict, the city’s downtown streets remained unblocked Tuesday and few storefronts were boarded up. Kenosha police and the Kenosha County sheriff sent out a message saying law enforcement has improved its response to “large-scale events” since last year.
“To date, we have no reason to facilitate road closures, enact curfews or ask our communities to modify their daily routines,” the message said.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has authorized 500 Army National Guard troops to assist local police, but there was no sign of them near the courthouse as the jury deliberated.
“Please respect the Kenosha community and their efforts to come together,” Evers said in a tweet. “I ask all those who choose to assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights in every community to do so safely and peacefully.”
Dave Graham, a Mansfield, Ohio, man who wore a cowboy hat on his head and a knife on his belt, carried one of the few signs with a neutral message: “Unity not fracture.”
He said he has traveled to other cities engulfed by turmoil or natural disaster in recent years to “see what the truth was,” and came to Kenosha out of concern for the city.
“I don’t have anything (to say) about the trial,” he said. “Where I’m coming from is that it doesn’t have to end with fire.”