By Michael Tarm, AP
The mother of a 17-year-old accused of killing two demonstrators in Kenosha, Wisconsin, is among those slated to testify Friday during a hearing in Illinois to decide if her son should be extradited across the border to stand trial on homicide charges.
Kyle Rittenhouse’s lawyers also planned to call an expert on self-defense, a prison-safety consultant and two former homicide detectives in a long shot bid to convince Judge Paul Novak in Waukegan, Illinois, not to turn their client over to Wisconsin authorities.
The case has become a rallying point for some conservatives who see Rittenhouse as a patriot who was exercising his right to bear arms during unrest in Kenosha following the shooting of a Black man by a white police officer. Others portray him as a domestic terrorist who incited protesters by showing up wielding a rifle.
State-to-state extraditions are typically formalities and judges rarely refuse to OK another state’s request to transfer a suspect. Efforts to fight extradition are nearly always in vain but can help attorneys to buy time to compile evidence and prepare a defense.
A recent defense filing listing witnesses it wants to call at the hearing in the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan names Rittenhouse’s mom, Wendy Rittenhouse. The documents didn’t offer details, saying she would discuss the circumstances of her son’s arrest.
Prosecutors aren’t expected to call anyone to the witness stand, saying in filings of their own that it’s the role of a Wisconsin judge, not one in Illinois, to gauge whether there are sufficient grounds for charges.
The most serious charge Rittenhouse faces in Wisconsin is first-degree intentional homicide for fatally shooting two protesters, which carries a life prison sentence. He is also charged with attempted intentional homicide in the wounding of a third protesters, as well as a misdemeanor charge of underage firearm possession.
The killings occurred Aug. 25, two days after a police officer trying to arrest Jacob Blake shot him seven times in the back after a brief scuffle, leaving Blake paralyzed from the waist down. A video of the shooting posted online sparked outrage and helped spur on the protests.
Rittenhouse and the man he allegedly injured are white, as were the two men killed.
A day after the shooting, Rittenhouse surrendered to police in his Illinois hometown of Antioch, just across the Wisconsin border and some 10 miles (16.09 kilometers) southwest of Kenosha.
Lawyers for Rittenhouse have argued he was acting in self-defense and that extraditing him to Wisconsin would violate his constitutional rights.
In one filing, they complained that Rittenhouse had been “publicly branded a ‘mass murderer,’ a ‘terrorist,’ a ‘racist,’ and more.” At a hearing in the case in early October, Rittenhouse attorney John Pierce said “this is not a legitimate criminal prosecution, it is a political prosecution.” Defense lawyers have also said his extradition would be akin to turning him “over to the mob.”
The Rittenhouse defense team was broaching “irrelevant and inflammatory ‘facts’ which are solely meant to sway sympathy and public opinion through the media in favor of the defendant,” Lake County Assistant State’s Attorney Stephen Scheller responded in one recent filing.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed a warrant to return Rittenhouse to Wisconsin after a request from Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a fellow Democrat. Mike Nerheim, the Lake County state’s attorney, has said he’s never seen anyone fight extradition after the governor signed a warrant for it.
Legal experts say that on the rare occasions when state extradition cases have been contested, defense lawyers usually argue that either no crime was committed in the other state or that the defendant was not the person who committed whatever crime did occur.
— Eli Valley (@elivalley) October 28, 2020
According to prosecutors and court documents, Rittenhouse shot and killed 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum, of Kenosha, after Rosenbaum threw a plastic bag at Rittenhouse, missing him, and tried to wrestle his rifle away.
While trying to get away in the immediate aftermath, Rittenhouse was captured on cellphone video saying, “I just killed somebody.” According to a complaint filed by prosecutors, someone in the crowd said, “Beat him up!” and another yelled, “Get him! Get that dude!”
Video shows that Rittenhouse tripped in the street. As he was on the ground, 26-year-old Anthony Huber, of Silver Lake, hit him with a skateboard and tried to take his rifle. Rittenhouse opened fire, killing Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, of West Allis, who was holding a handgun.