“Let the evidence show what the evidence shows, that any or one of these people were engaged in arson, rioting or looting, then I’m not going to tell the defense they can’t call them that,” Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder said during the pre-trial hearing.
He has pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys argue he acted in self-defense.
On Monday, Rittenhouse’s legal team and prosecutors attended a pretrial hearing to review outstanding issues before jury selection begins on November 1.
“I don’t think I’m inclined toward prior restraint,” Schroeder said.
But Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger argued the judge was setting up a “double standard” due to his longstanding rule of not allowing prosecutors to refer to people as “victims” at trial.
“If I were to count the number of times that you’ve admonished me not to call someone a victim during a trial, it would be in the thousands,” Binger said.
“The word ‘victim’ is a loaded, loaded word. And I think ‘alleged victim’ is a cousin to it,” Schroeder said.
But Binger disagreed, telling the judge, “I think it’s the exact same issue. The terms that I’m identifying here, such as ‘rioters,’ ‘looters,’ ‘arsonists,’ are as loaded, if not more loaded, than the term ‘victim.'”
The debate over labels and how they may inform the jury’s impression of those at the center or the trial gets to the heart of the defense’s argument that Rittenhouse opened fire that night to protect himself.
Shots fired amid chaotic scene
Numerous videos taken during the protests show Rittenhouse, wearing a green T-shirt and a backward baseball cap and carrying an AR-15-style rifle, walking the city’s streets with a group of armed men.
As Rosenbaum lay on the ground, the complaint says, Rittenhouse ran away while calling a friend and telling them, “I just killed somebody.” He was pursued by protesters, and then tripped and fell to the ground.
While he was on the ground, Rittenhouse shot Huber, who appeared to hit him with a skateboard, according to the complaint, and then shot a third protester approaching him, Grosskreutz, in the right arm. Grosskreutz was holding a handgun but had his hands up, the complaint says.
After the shooting, Rittenhouse walked by police with his hands up, bystander videos show, and he turned himself in at his local police department the morning after the shooting.
Binger, the prosecutor, argued Monday that any behavior Rosenbaum, Huber or Grosskreutz may have participated in that night that could lead the jury to believe they were arsonists, rioters or looters wasn’t witnessed by Rittenhouse and shouldn’t be part of his defense.
“He can’t argue self-defense against things he’s not aware of,” Binger said. “These other acts are strictly designed to attack the reputation of these individuals, it’s designed to paint them in the worst possible light to prejudice them. Two of them can’t defend themselves … because the defendant killed them. And it’s unduly prejudicial to the jury to be told about any of those things.”
But a defense attorney said the shootings should be weighed against the wider context of what was happening that night.
“All of that lawlessness, all of the facts and circumstances surrounding what is going on, is relevant in terms of Kyle Rittenhouse’s conduct. I think it’s impossible to say that it’s not.”
CNN’s Casey Tolan, Ray Sanchez, Omar Jimenez and Faith Karimi contributed to this report.