Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict: The Defense Lawyer Playbook
Shortly after a Wisconsin jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges against him, defense attorney Mark Richards criticized his predecessors, telling reporters their tactics – relying on Rittenhouse’s portrayal as a rallying point for the right to bear arms and to defend oneself – were not that.
“I was hired by the first two lawyers. I will not use their names,” Richards said Friday. “They wanted to use Kyle for a cause and something that I find inappropriate – and I don’t represent causes. I represent clients.”
The angry rhetoric surrounding Rittenhouse’s case did not subside with the change of lawyers. But Richards, beaming as he spoke to reporters outside his Racine law firm after the acquittal, said the only thing that mattered to him was “whether or not he was found not guilty or not.”
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With co-counsel Corey Chirafisi, he spent the months leading up to the case in near silence – “I don’t do interviews,” he said bluntly to an emailed request in December. –And asked the trial to play down the polarizing questions about Second Amendment rights.
It was a strategy that at times conflicted with other forces surrounding Rittenhouse. Fox News had an on-board film crew at Rittenhouse at times, including before and after the verdict, putting together material for a documentary marketed as the “Tucker Carlson Original.” Carlson tweeted a promo for its Monday night broadcast, as well as an exclusive interview with Rittenhouse.
Defense lawyer Mark Richards
The crew sometimes attended defense meetings. Richards told The Associated Press he opposed it as inappropriate and said he had sacked the team on several occasions. He said it was organized by those who fundraise for Rittenhouse.
“It was not approved by me, but I am not always in control,” he said, adding that he must have thrown the crew out of the hall on several occasions: “I think that it interfered with what we were trying to do, and that was obviously to get Kyle found not guilty. “
Regardless of what went on behind the scenes, Richards and Chirafisi’s strategy in court was clear: to have the jury view Rittenhouse as a scared teenager who shot to save his life.
They repeatedly focused on the two minutes and 55 seconds in which the shots took place – the critical moments in which Rittenhouse, then 17, said he felt a threat and pulled the trigger.
“These guys have a client who’s a human… that’s what they’re rightly focusing on,” said Dean Strang, defense attorney and professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Strang, who spoke to the AP ahead of Friday’s verdict and who was unrelated to the case, said Richards and Chirafisi viewed Rittenhouse “as an 18-year-old kid who had a lot of problems, more than ‘he couldn’t handle. “
In the days following the shooting, Rittenhouse – who brought an AR-type rifle to a protest, claiming he was protecting a stranger’s property – was initially represented by attorneys John Pierce and Lin Wood, who painted Rittenhouse as a defender of freedom and a patriot. who exercised his right to bear arms. Pierce tweeted a video of Rittenhouse speaking by phone from a prison in Illinois, where he is from, thanking his supporters. A video posted by a group linked to its legal team said Rittenhouse was being “sacrificed by politicians” whose “end game” was to stop the “constitutional right of all citizens to defend our communities.”
Rivers of money flowed into a legal defense fund – more than enough for Rittenhouse to post his $ 2 million bail – but Wood dropped the case and became active in pressuring the false claim that Donald Trump had won the presidential election. Pierce left the criminal case in December after prosecutors said he shouldn’t be allowed to fundraise for Rittenhouse, but he stayed on the civilian side until Rittenhouse said he had it. dismissed in February.
Richards recounted his first meeting with Rittenhouse on Friday: “I told him when I first met him, if he was looking for someone to go on a crusade, I was not his lawyer.”
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Wood told the AP on Saturday that he was not a criminal lawyer and had not been involved in the civil side of things since he was asked to step down. He said the foundation he heads, Fightback Foundation, raised money for Rittenhouse’s bail and publicly said the case was a Second Amendment issue.
“I was not a lawyer defending a cause,” said Wood. “Fightback has a mission which includes the right to bear arms and self-defense.”
Richards – gritty-voiced, gruff and often slumped in his chair during the proceedings – had appeared to be lead counsel in the months leading up to the trial. After the verdicts, he called Chirafisi his co-counsel – “not the second president” – and called him a “best friend”.
They came to court prepared. Richards used several videos during his opening statement – despite the objection of prosecutors who did not take the opportunity.
Defense lawyer Corey Chirafisi
They vehemently pleaded for the trial to be quashed when they felt prosecutors were acting in bad faith and appeared to foil prosecutors to have a gun charge dismissed.
And they made a careful calculation with perhaps their biggest decision: whether Rittenhouse should take the stand, risking potentially damaging cross-examination. Richards said they tested their case against a pair of fictitious juries and found it to be “noticeably better” with Rittenhouse’s testimony.
“It wasn’t a close call,” he said.
Richards is a veteran of the courts and served as a district attorney in Racine and Kenosha counties in the late 1980s before opening his own practice in 1990 specializing in criminal defense. Chirafisi is also a former prosecutor and has practiced law for over 20 years. His law firm is in Madison.
Bruce Schroeder, Kenosha County Judge
Lawyers repeatedly rebuffed prosecutors’ suggestion that Rittenhouse was an alien drawn to Kenosha by chaos, noting that although he lived in nearby Antioch, Ill., His father lived in Kenosha. and Rittenhouse was working in Kenosha County as a lifeguard. Richards shared his own distress at seeing the violence in Kenosha from his home in Racine after the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man, by a white police officer.
As prosecutors tried to show Rittenhouse acted like an overreacting vigilante, he and his lawyers argued that he was defending himself. “As jurors you will end up looking at things from a 17-year-old’s perspective under the circumstances as they existed,” Richards told the jury.
When Rittenhouse was on the stand, they quickly objected to the prosecutor’s cross-examination, calling it harassment.
In a fiery moment in the trial, after the defense objected to prosecutor Thomas Binger’s line of questioning, Chirafisi raised the possibility that Binger was trying to cause the trial to be canceled because the state was in bad shape.
Kenosha County District Attorney Thomas Binger
“I don’t know if it’s my role to sit here and say who wins,” Chirafisi told the judge. “I don’t think that’s necessarily what I’m supposed to do. But I think the court has to make certain conclusions regarding bad faith on the part of the prosecution.”
Richards and Chirafisi divided the duties of the trial, Richards doing the opening statement and argument and Chirafisi taking care of much of the testimony of the witnesses. Richards said the two were arguing over who would question Gaige Grosskreutz, the man who had a gun in his hand when Rittenhouse shot and injured him.
Richards said Chirafisi won – and did a better job than he would have. Chirafisi made Grosskreutz admit that he had pointed his gun at Rittenhouse.
“It wasn’t until you pointed your gun at him, stepped forward on him… did he shoot, right?” asked Chirafisi.
“Right,” Grosskreutz replied. During a follow-up questioning by the prosecutor, Grosskreutz said he never intended to point his gun at Rittenhouse.
Strang, who helped represent Steven Avery in the case documented by the Netflix series “Making a Murderer,” described Chirafisi as quick-witted and still engaged in the courtroom. Strang said Richards is slow to get angry, but “won’t let go” if he thinks something is unfair.
This was evident during Richards’ argument when, in his thunderous voice, he looked at the prosecutor’s table and repeatedly accused Binger of lying. The jurors seemed riveted. Richards reiterated his distaste for the way prosecutors presented their case on Friday.
He also slammed social media for spreading what he called “not the real story” of the events in Kenosha right after they happened – “something we had to work to overcome in court.”
“I knew this matter was serious,” Richards told reporters. “I had no idea it was going to be that big.”
Forliti reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press writer Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin contributed to this report.