A juror was dismissed from the Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial Thursday for making a joke about the Kenosha police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back seven times by a white police officer outside an apartment complex in Kenosha, Wis., on Aug. 23, 2020, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Video of the shooting, which took place in front of Blake’s children, quickly circulated across social media, sparking multiple days of protests that ultimately devolved into destructive riots at night. It was during the third night of unrest following the Blake shooting that the then-17-year-old Rittenhouse, who had come from Antioch, Ill., along with other armed civilians, shot and killed Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz.
Rittenhouse is being tried for five felony counts in relation to the shootings: first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety. He also faces one misdemeanor charge for possession of a dangerous weapon under the age of 18. He has pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys argue that he acted in self-defense. Prosecutors have set out to portray Rittenhouse as an outside agitator who “contributed to chaos” that unfolded in the streets of Kenosha following the Blake shooting.
Before beginning a third day of witness testimony Thursday morning, Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder addressed a request from prosecutors to excuse a juror who had made a joke about the Blake shooting to a courtroom deputy while being escorted to his car earlier in the week. The joke, according to prosecutors, was “Why did the Kenosha police shoot Jacob Blake seven times? Because they ran out of bullets.”
The defense initially objected to removing the juror but backed away from that position after the man declined to repeat the joke for the judge. While the juror insisted that his remark had “nothing to do with the case,” Schroeder explained he was concerned that “the appearance of bias” on the jury could “seriously undermine the outcome of the case.”
“The public needs to be confident in the outcome of this trial,” he said. “At the very [least] it was bad judgment to tell that kind of joke.”
Schroeder has made clear that he is paying close attention to the national media coverage of this high-profile trial. On Wednesday, he complained about some of the criticism he has received, specifically from legal analysts on CNN, for his ruling at the outset of the trial that prohibited attorneys from using the word “victim” to describe those shot by Rittenhouse, while saying the terms “rioters,” “looters” or “arsonists” could potentially be used.
“There was a gentleman on the TV night before last who said, ‘This is the most divisive case in the country today,’” Schroeder said Wednesday. “So anything that undermines public confidence in what happens here is very important. It’s important for this town, it’s important for this country, to have people have confidence in the result of this trial, whatever it is. And I don’t care what it is.”
Jury selection was completed quickly on Monday, though it had been impossible to find a single potential juror who was not familiar with the Rittenhouse case. The removal of the juror on Thursday leaves 19 remaining members of the jury, a number that will ultimately be cut down to 12 when deliberations begin.