The 17-year-old charged in the shooting deaths of two protesters in Wisconsin is fighting his extradition from Illinois, but his attorneys didn't outline their strategy during a brief hearing on Friday and legal experts say there isn't much the teen can do to stop it.
Kyle Rittenhouse surrendered to police in his hometown of Antioch, Illinois, a day after prosecutors say he shot and killed two protesters and wounded a third on the streets of Kenosha on Aug. 25. If convicted of one of the most serious charges he faces, he would be sentenced to life in prison.
Rittenhouse's attorneys have said he acted in self-defense and have portrayed him as a courageous patriot who was exercising his right to bear arms during a night of unrest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, who is Black. And his arrest has become a rallying point for some on the right, with a legal defense fund that has attracted millions in donations. But others see Rittenhouse as a domestic terrorist whose presence with a rifle incited the protesters.
Rittenhouse appeared via video for a hearing in a Lake County, Illinois, court on Friday, where his attorney asked for more time to prepare his arguments against extradition, without detailing what they would be. Rittenhouse, wearing a face mask, said only “Good morning, your honor” during a hearing that lasted less than 10 minutes.
One of Rittenhouse's attorneys, John Pierce, made clear that he is opposing Rittenhouse's return to Wisconsin to face the charges. Pierce asked for a month to prepare arguments challenging extradition that he said involve “issues of some complexity, frankly that have not arisen in the country for some time.”
Judge Paul Novak gave the defense 14 days to review papers and file pleadings ahead of an Oct. 9 hearing — the second such delay that has been granted to Rittenhouse. Whatever the judge rules can be appealed.
Mike Nerheim, the Lake County state’s attorney, said after the hearing that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker had signed a warrant to return Rittenhouse to Wisconsin after a request from Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a fellow Democrat. Pierce asked for a chance to review the warrant, which Nerheim said he had received Friday morning.
Nerheim said in his 20 years as an attorney, he's never seen anyone fight extradition after the governor signed a warrant for it. Nerheim said he didn’t know on what basis Rittenhouse would challenge extradition.
“We’re ready to proceed,” he said.
Extradition cases are rarely fought, but when they are the defendant has to do it through a habeas corpus proceeding, said Cecelia Klingele, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School. That means Rittenhouse would have to argue that he is being illegally detained, she said.
“We just don’t know what the basis of the legal challenge is going to be,” she said.
David Erickson, a former state appellate judge who teaches at Chicago Kent College of Law, said when challenges do occur, there are generally two arguments: that no crime was committed in the other state or that the defendant was not the person who committed the crime.
“It's going to be some unique kind of theory, that's for sure,” Erickson said. "It's not the standard two of ‘it ain’t me' or ‘there’s no crime,'" he said.
The judge seems to be approaching the case with caution, seeing as how he has given Rittenhouse's lawyers weeks to prepare their arguments, Erickson said.
Rittenhouse's attorneys and fundraising team have publicly framed him as a defender of liberty, rightfully carrying a weapon amid rioting.
Pierce also asked the judge to be allowed to bring a laptop into the juvenile detention facility in Vernon Hills where Rittenhouse is being held, despite a ban on electronic equipment, so they could review video evidence together from the night of the shootings. Novak said he would consider it.
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said he thinks the largest advantage of the delay for Rittenhouse’s defense team is more time to gather resources or new evidence. It also could force prosecutors to provide more details about their case against Rittenhouse in support of extradition, he said.
“This case is going to be challenging in a number of respects,” Turley said. “There are eyewitnesses, but forensics will also be important — the angle of shots, any powder burns or residue evidence. Those are issues that require not just the retention of experts, but an opportunity for them to examine the evidence. So the defense often tries to put the brakes on these cases at every stage to give themselves enough time.”
Rittenhouse, who is white, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the killing of two white protesters and attempted intentional homicide in the wounding of a third. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of underage firearm possession for wielding a semi-automatic rifle. If convicted of first-degree homicide, he would face a mandatory life prison sentence.
According to prosecutors and court documents, Rittenhouse shot and killed 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum, of Kenosha, after Rosenbaum threw a plastic bag at Rittenhouse, missing him, and tried to wrestle his rifle away.
While trying to get away in the immediate aftermath, Rittenhouse was captured on cellphone video saying “I just killed somebody.” According to the complaint filed by prosecutors, someone in the crowd said, “Beat him up!” and another yelled, “Get him! Get that dude!”
Video shows that Rittenhouse tripped in the street. As he was on the ground, 26-year-old Anthony Huber, of Silver Lake, hit him with a skateboard and tried to take his rifle away. Rittenhouse opened fire, killing Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, of West Allis, who was holding a handgun.
Rittenhouse’s extradition would not be an issue if he had been arrested in Kenosha the night of the shootings. Cellphone video that captured some of the action shows that right after the shootings, Rittenhouse walked slowly toward a police vehicle with his hands up, only to be waved through by police. He returned to his Illinois home and turned himself in soon after. Police later blamed the chaotic conditions for why they didn't arrest Rittenhouse at the scene.
The killings happened two days after a white Kenosha police officer shot Blake seven times in the back, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down and sparking outrage after video of the shooting was posted online. A Wisconsin Department of Justice investigation into that shooting is ongoing. The three responding officers are on administrative leave.
In addition to Los Angeles-based Pierce, Rittenhouse’s legal team includes Lin Wood, a defamation lawyer who represented falsely accused security guard Richard Jewell in the 1996 Olympic Park bombing case in Atlanta and is a lawyer for Sean Hannity, the Fox News host with close ties to President Donald Trump.
Both Pierce and Wood have ties to Trump’s orbit and brand of politics, and have tapped into their social media network to raise support from conservatives for the teenage shooter. A big boost came last month when Pierce defended Rittenhouse in an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.
On Thursday, Pierce got a taste of the support he’s worked so hard to build when he attended a Waukesha County GOP function with Rittenhouse’s mother. At one point, women in the audience gave the two a standing ovation, according to a tweet from conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, who also attended.
Bauer reported from Madison, Wisconsin, and Foody reported from Chicago. Bernard Condon in New York also contributed.