By Joe Kelly | Courthouse News

KENOSHA, Wis. (CN) — One week ahead of the trial of an 18-year-old who shot three and killed two at a protest last summer, a Wisconsin judge and attorneys for the state and the defense on Monday hashed out limits on use-of-force testimony and resolved other lingering evidence motions. 

With the conclusion of Monday’s hearing, all eyes are on the start of the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, who is charged with five felonies — including intentional and reckless homicide — for killing Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and injuring Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, on Aug. 25, 2020, during chaotic protestsover the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by Rusten Sheskey, a white police officer, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Rosenbaum, Huber and Grosskreutz were protesting Blake’s shooting on the night of the incident, while Rittenhouse, then 17, reportedly came to Kenosha from his mom’s house in Antioch, Illinois, with the aim of protecting life and property at the protests, during which dozens of cars and business were torched. Rittenhouse’s defense maintains he shot in self-defense while being chased by a crowd of protesters.

A preview of testimony from an expert for the defense, John Black, heard in court earlier this month reasoned that Rittenhouse’s use of deadly force was reasonable given the violent, lawless context of the protests that night and the threats Rittenhouse may have perceived.

Assistant Kenosha County District Attorney Thomas Binger resisted the allowance of Black’s testimony, in part because his expertise deals with uses of force by police, not civilians. Binger argued earlier this month and on Monday that he does not think any use-of-force experts are necessary for the trial, saying “the jury should be allowed to watch the videos, hear the arguments of the attorneys, hear the testimony of the witnesses” and make their own determinations.

Mark Richards, a Racine-based attorney for Rittenhouse, said Black’s specialties are needed to analyze video of the events frame-by-frame to show the rapid timing of the shootings, which will speak to the reasonableness of Rittenhouse’s actions. Binger suggested anyone with a stopwatch could time the shootings along with the video at trial, which Richards dismissed as ridiculous since five non-experts using a stopwatch would come up with five different timings.

Binger on Monday was ready to bring his own use-of-force expert, retired police officer and instructor in the use of force Robert Willis, but ended up saying he does not plan to call him as long as Black’s testimony is limited to the timing of the shootings and human behavior and does not attempt to establish the intent of either Rittenhouse or the people he shot, which Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder agreed to.

Binger additionally brought a motion to keep attorneys from referring to Rosenbaum, Huber or Grosskreutz as “rioters, looters or arsonists” during the trial, which he considered loaded terms akin to calling them “victims,” a term Schroeder shot down in a previous hearing and again on Monday. But while the judge doubled down on preventing the use of “victim,” he said that the other terms can be used provided the evidence supports it, which Binger considered a double standard.

Schroeder said he would allow the defense to bring evidence that police told Rittenhouse and other counterprotesters guarding property before the shootings that “we appreciate you guys, we really do” and offered them water, which he agreed with the defense could contextualize whether Rittenhouse acted recklessly, adding that it may show officers’ approval emboldened him. Binger characterized admitting that evidence as turning the trial into one on the actions of the police that night, not Rittenhouse’s shootings.

The judge was in favor of letting the defense mention that Grosskreutz is suingthe city and county of Kenosha for damages connected to his injuries if he testifies, as it could portray his bias in the outcome of Rittenhouse’s trial. 

Schroeder sided with Binger on the state’s attorney’s motion to prevent the defense from referring to Rittenhouse by his first name, saying anyone of age will only be referred to via honorifics and last names.

Many conservatives have flocked to support Rittenhouse, calling him a patriot, making him a symbol for gun rights and raising $2 million for his bail. Others, including some liberals and activists, portray him as a domestic terrorist and say he made a volatile situation worse.

Jury selection in Rittenhouse’s trial is scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m. on Monday in Kenosha.