KENOSHA, Wis. — Opening statements in the Kyle Rittenhouse homicide trial are expected on Tuesday, after a jury was selected in an unusually swift process on Monday at the Kenosha County Courthouse.
Mr. Rittenhouse, 18, faces six criminal counts including first-degree intentional homicide in the shooting deaths of two men and the wounding of another in the aftermath of protests over a police shooting in Kenosha during the summer of 2020.
The jury, a panel of 20 people composed of 11 women and nine men, was winnowed from a pool of about 150 prospective jurors who were summoned to the courthouse for questioning.
Judge Bruce Schroeder of Kenosha County Circuit Court, determined to select a jury rapidly, questioned potential jurors closely about their biases and their connections to the expected witnesses in the trial.
When potential jurors said they had read and talked too much about the trial to be impartial jurists, Judge Schroeder questioned whether they could overcome their notions about the case and focus on the evidence. One man began explaining that his support for the Second Amendment was so fervent that he did not believe he could serve as an impartial juror, but was stopped by the judge.
“I want this case to reflect the greatness of Kenosha and the fairness of Kenosha, and I don’t want it to get sidetracked into other issues,” Judge Schroeder said. “I don’t care about your opinions on the Second Amendment.”
It was impossible to find a juror in Kenosha, a former factory town on the shore of Lake Michigan, who was unfamiliar with the contours of what happened: When Judge Schroeder asked if there was anyone in the pool of jurors who had not heard of the Rittenhouse case, not a single person raised a hand.
Demonstrations erupted in Kenosha in August 2020 after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black resident, seven times in the back during an arrest. For several days, protesters of police violence thronged Kenosha by the thousands, and rioters burned buildings and looted businesses, overwhelming police officers and National Guardsmen.
The third night of protests turned deadly when Mr. Rittenhouse, who was then 17, came to Kenosha with a military-style semiautomatic rifle and joined a group of people who said they were there to help keep order on the streets. Within hours, Mr. Rittenhouse had shot and killed two men and wounded a third during a confrontation.
Mr. Rittenhouse’s defense lawyers are expected to make an argument that he shot the men in self-defense after being chased in a parking lot by Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, the first man Mr. Rittenhouse shot and killed; he was then pursued by more members of the crowd, including Anthony Huber, 26. The prosecutors have described a different version of events, arguing in pretrial hearings that Mr. Rittenhouse was an outside agitator from Illinois who was bent on violence, arriving in Kenosha with a rifle he was not legally allowed to possess.
During jury selection, several prospective jurors said they had painful memories of the nights of protest and violence in their region, expressing fear and anxiety over the precautions they had taken as dozens of businesses were damaged and burned. And they worried that the verdict the jury eventually reached would be met with anger.
“I really want to serve on a jury. I really don’t want to serve on this jury,” one woman said. “Either way this goes, you’re going to have half the country upset with you.”