Likewise, President Trump and other supporters of Kenosha, Wis., shooting suspect Kyle Rittenhouse have rallied around the teen, arguing he, too, was defending himself when, police said, he shot and killed two protesters and injured a third during unrest there last week.
“He fell,” the president said of Rittenhouse, “and then they very violently attacked him. . . . He probably would have been killed.”
It is difficult to assess Reinoehl’s claims since accounts are conflicting, but legal experts said Rittenhouse’s self-defense argument is far less certain than his supporters claim.
Under Wisconsin law, someone is allowed to use deadly force when the person reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to him or herself or others.
A person using deadly force in Wisconsin doesn’t have the duty to retreat before deploying it as in some states, although a jury can weigh whether the person had the opportunity to escape.
“That is essentially a jury question to decide what was reasonable under the circumstances,” said University of Wisconsin Law School Professor Keith A. Findley. “Based on the facts of the case as I understand them, can he raise a claim of self-defense? Yeah, it very well could be a triable question, but whether he would prevail or the prosecution would convict him is hard to predict.”
Attorneys for Rittenhouse said in a statement that they plan to test that proposition, taking the case to trial and making self-defense their primary argument for his acquittal on five felony charges, including two counts of homicide. Rittenhouse, 17, has also been charged with being too young to possess a gun.
“Kyle did nothing wrong,” the statement read. “He exercised his God-given, Constitutional, common law and statutory law right to self-defense.”
Anthony Cotton, a Milwaukee criminal defense attorney and former president of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the facts of the case are still not fully known, but what he has seen so far provides some fodder for that contention.
“My initial reaction is that is a very strong self-defense case,” Cotton said.
Cotton said a self-defense claim is dependent on the fact pattern surrounding each of the shootings, and other legal experts said Rittenhouse may have to testify to explain why he thought his life was in danger. That could be a risky proposition, as it could expose him to sharp questions from prosecutors.
Cotton said the first shooting is less convincing as a self-defense claim, in part because the events that led up to it are somewhat murky and it might be harder to establish he was facing serious danger.
Rittenhouse traveled from his home in Illinois to Kenosha on Aug. 25 to guard the mechanic shops of an auto dealership that had previously been damaged by a violent protest over the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha police, according to his attorney’s statement.
After a curfew that night, Rittenhouse was accosted and chased by protesters in the lead-up to the shootings as he guarded one of the shops, his attorneys claim. The criminal complaint against Rittenhouse makes no mention of those incidents. It covers events only immediately before the shooting.
Daily Caller reporter Richard McGinnis told detectives he was interviewing Rittenhouse when the first victim, Joseph Rosenbaum, approached and tried to engage the teen, who was armed with an AR-15-style rifle, according to the criminal complaint.
Cellphone videos show Rosenbaum trailing Rittenhouse as he runs across a parking lot, according to the complaint. Rosenbaum, who appears unarmed, throws what is described as a plastic bag at Rittenhouse and misses, the complaint says.
The pair are seen on the video approaching a parked car, and a loud bang is heard, before a man shouts an expletive. Rosenbaum approaches Rittenhouse and four more bangs are heard as Rosenbaum collapses, according to the criminal complaint. Rosenbaum was later pronounced dead.
McGinnis told authorities that Rosenbaum was trying to disarm Rittenhouse when the teen opened fire.
Cotton said he thought some jurors might conclude that Rittenhouse felt his life was in danger if Rosenbaum wrested control of his weapon, but Marquette University law professor and former prosecutor Gregory J. O’Meara found that idea unconvincing.
“I don’t think a person of reasonable intelligence and prudence would think someone taking a deadly weapon from a 17-year-old is an attack of imminent death or great bodily harm,” O’Meara said.
Soon after, another cellphone video shows Rittenhouse running up a road surrounded by people on the pavement and sidewalk. Someone can be heard shouting, “Beat him up!” while someone else yells, “Hey, he shot him!” Rittenhouse trips and falls.
Video appears to show Anthony Huber, the second victim, hit Rittenhouse with a skateboard as he tries to grab the teen’s rifle. Rittenhouse shoots him and Huber staggers away, falls and later dies, the criminal complaint alleges.
Rittenhouse sits up and then fires on a third man, Gaige Grosskreutz, who was advancing toward him with what appeared to be a handgun, the criminal complaint alleges. Grosskreutz suffered an arm injury but survived.
Rittenhouse backed away from the scene, finally bringing the events to a close. He returned to his home in Illinois and later turned himself in. He is awaiting extradition to Wisconsin.
Cotton and Thomas Grieve, another Wisconsin attorney who regularly handles firearms cases, said the latter shootings should present a much stronger case for self-defense given Rittenhouse was fleeing confrontation and being chased by a man with a deadly weapon.
“The defense will basically say he was trying to get away, he was trying to de-escalate,” Grieve said. “The prosecution is going to be saying, ‘Look, they had this guy they viewed as a crazy vigilante who might do lord knows what with an AR-15 and they had a duty . . . to save other lives by disarming this individual.’ ”
Experts said a number of factors could weaken Rittenhouse’s self-defense claim. Under Wisconsin law, someone who engages in unlawful conduct likely to provoke others to attack him or her cannot claim self-defense against such an attack.
Some legal experts were skeptical of the idea, but Cotton said prosecutors might try to argue Rittenhouse’s conduct was provocative given the volatile situation he inserted himself into that night while allegedly illegally carrying a gun.
“Unlawfully possessing a gun, showing up from out of state, 17 years old, violating curfew . . . possessing an assault rifle — all of those things are potentially provocative,” Cotton said.
At the very least, Cotton said, the factors may weigh against a self-defense claim.
Defense attorneys would have to raise a self-defense claim at trial, and a judge would decide whether to instruct a jury to consider it based on the evidence that has been presented. Prosecutors could argue against it.
Legal experts said it’s difficult to guess how a jury might rule on a self-defense claim, in part because the case has created such polarizing reactions. Jurors could have radically different views on Rittenhouse’s conduct that mirror the case’s yawning political divide.
In Portland, Reinoehl appeared to be moving toward the same legal defense, before he was shot and killed. Authorities had issued an arrest warrant for him in connection with the shooting.
In the interview with “Vice News Tonight,” Reinoehl said he thought his life and that of a friend were on the line during an encounter with Aaron J. Danielson, a supporter of the far-right Patriot Prayer group.
“I had no choice. I mean, I, I had a choice,” Reinoehl said. “I could have sat there and watched them kill a friend of mine of color. But I wasn’t going to do that.”
But a person who was with Danielson, 39, offered a conflicting account. The man said he was not aware a gun was being pointed in his direction and felt he and Danielson were targeted because they wore hats associated with Patriot Prayer.