Rittenhouse Lawyer Trial Rulebook: Don’t ‘Crusade’, Motivate
Soon after a Wisconsin jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges, defense attorney Mark Richards criticized his predecessors, telling reporters that their tactics—the tendency to portray Rittenhouse as a rallying point for the right to bear arms and self-defense—were not his.
“I was hired by the first two attorneys. I wouldn’t use their names,” Richards said Friday. “They wanted to use Kyle for a reason and something that I thought was inappropriate — and I don’t represent the reasons. I represent clients.”
Richards, beaming as he spoke to reporters outside his law office in Racine after the acquittal, told him that the only thing that mattered to him was “whether or not he has been proven not guilty.”
Seems to be an appropriate comment from Richards. Together with associate attorney Cory Chiravese, he spent the months leading up to the case in virtual silence — “I don’t give interviews,” he bluntly said in an email request in December — and at trial sought to reduce polarizing questions about Second Amendment rights.
Hours after the ruling, Fox News promoted an exclusive interview and an upcoming documentary on Rittenhouse, with footage that showed a crew was with him during the trial. Richards told The Associated Press on Saturday that he opposed the crew as unsuitable, but that it was arranged by those raising money for Rittenhouse.
“I didn’t agree with that, but I’m not always in control,” he said, adding that he had to drive the crew out of the room on several occasions: “I think it detracts from what we were trying to do, and that obviously made Kyle not guilty.”
Regardless of what was going on behind the scenes, Richards and Schervisey’s strategy in court was clear: Have the jury consider Rittenhouse a frightened teen who shot to save his life.
They focused over and over on the two minutes, 55 seconds in which the shooting occurred — the crucial moments when Rittenhouse, then 17, said he felt threatened and pulled the trigger.
“These guys have a client who is a human being…that’s what they really focus on,” said Dean Strang, a defense attorney and resident distinguished professor at Loyola University School of Law in Chicago. Strang, who spoke to the AP before Friday’s ruling and was not related to the case, said Richards and Schervisie see Rittenhouse “as an 18-year-old who got into a lot of trouble, more than he can handle.”
In the days following the shooting, Rittenhouse—who had brought an AR rifle to protest, saying he was protecting a stranger’s property—was initially represented by attorneys John Pearce and Lane Wood, who painted Rittenhouse as a freedom fighter and patriot. who was exercising his right to bear arms. Pierce tweeted a video of Rittenhouse speaking on the phone from a prison in Illinois, where he belongs, thanking his supporters. A video posted by a group linked to his legal team stated that Rittenhouse was “sacrificed by politicians” whose “ultimate goal” was to stop “the constitutional right of all citizens to defend our societies”.
Rivers poured money into a legal defense fund — more than enough for Rittenhouse to pay $2 million in bail — but Wood left the case and became active in lobbying the false claim that Donald Trump had won the presidential election. Pierce left the criminal case in December after prosecutors said he should not be allowed to raise money for Rittenhouse, but remained on the civil side of matters until Rittenhouse said he fired him in February.
On Friday, Richards recounted his first encounter with Rittenhouse: “I told him when I first met him, if he’s looking for someone to crusade, I’m not his attorney.”
It appears that Richards — gritty, rough, and often hesitating in his chair during the proceedings — was the lead attorney in the months leading up to the trial. After the verdicts were passed, Chiravese called his advisor – “not the second president” – and referred to him as his “best friend”.
They came to court ready. Richards used several videos during his opening statement – due to the objection of prosecutors who did not take the opportunity.
They vigorously defended the mistrial when they felt the prosecutors were acting in bad faith, and appeared to outperform the prosecutors in dismissing the gun charge.
And they made careful calculations with perhaps their biggest decision: whether Rittenhouse should take the stand, risking potentially harmful questioning. Richards said they tested their case against a pair of mock jurors and found it was “much better” with Rittenhouse’s testimony.
“It wasn’t a close call,” he said.
Richards is a courtroom veteran who was a Racine and Kenosha County District Attorney in the late 1980s before opening his own criminal defense firm in 1990. Shiravisi is also a former attorney general and has been practicing law for more than 20 years. His law office is in Madison.
Lawyers repeatedly dismissed the prosecution’s idea that Rittenhouse was an outsider attracted to Kenosha by the chaos, noting that although he lived in nearby Antioch, Illinois, his father lived in Kenosha and Rittenhouse worked in Kenosha County as a lifeguard. Richards shared his grief when he witnessed the violence in Kenosha from his home in Racine after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, the black man.
While prosecutors attempted to show that Rittenhouse acted like an overreacting guard, he and his attorneys argued that he was defending himself. “You as a juror are going to end up looking at it from the point of view of a 17-year-old given the circumstances that were there,” Richards told the jury.
When Rittenhouse was on the stage, they quickly objected to the prosecutor’s questioning, calling it troublesome.
In one fiery moment in the trial, after the defense intercepted Attorney General Thomas Binger’s questioning line, Chiravese raised the possibility that Binger was trying to provoke a wrongful trial because the state was doing poorly.
“I don’t know it’s my role to sit here and say who will win,” Chiravese told the judge. “I don’t think that’s necessarily what I’m supposed to do. But I do think the court has to make some conclusions regarding bad faith on the part of the prosecution.”
Richards and Chirvisi divided duties at the trial, with Richards doing the opening statement and closing argument and Chirvisi taking on much of the witness testimony. Richards said the two argued over who would interrogate Gaige Grosskreutz, the man who had a gun in his hand when Rittenhouse shot and wounded him.
Richards said Chiravese won — and he did a better job than he had. Chiravese made Grosskreutz admit that he had aimed his gun at Rittenhouse.
“It wasn’t until you pointed your gun at him and walked up to him… he shot, right?” Shiravese asked.
“Right,” Grosskreutz replied. Under follow-up questioning from the attorney general, Grosskreutz said he never intended to point his gun at Rittenhouse.
Strang, who helped represent Stephen Avery in the case documented by Netflix’s “Making a Murderer,” described Chiravese as quick-witted and always involved in the courtroom. Strang said Richards is slow to get angry, but “wouldn’t let go” if he thought something was unfair.
This was evident during Richards’ closing argument when he looked loudly at the prosecutors’ table and repeatedly accused Binger of lying. The jurors appeared rivet. Richards reiterated his displeasure with the way prosecutors presented their case on Friday.
He also blamed social media for publishing what he called “not the true story” of events in Kenosha right after they occurred – “something we had to work to overcome in court”.
“I knew this was a big issue,” Richards told reporters. “I never knew it would be this big.”
Forletti reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press writer Scott Power in Madison, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.
Find the Associated Press’s full coverage of the Rittenhouse experience: https://apnews.com/hub/kyle-rittenhouse
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