KENOSHA, Wis. — A jury in Kenosha County was seated in the homicide trial of Kyle Rittenhouse on Monday, an unusually swift process that was completed with a flood of questioning on a single day.
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, Wis., in August 2020. Opening statements are expected on Tuesday morning.
A large number of prospective jurors — about 150 people — were summoned on Monday to the Kenosha County Courthouse downtown, a reflection of the outsize attention the trial has attracted in a city that was torn by civil unrest and gun violence last year.
Dozens of people were dismissed throughout the day and into the early evening, until the number of jurors was winnowed down to 20, a panel made up of 11 women and nine men. Twenty jurors will hear the case, and that number will be cut to 12 to reach a verdict. Kenosha County is 75 percent white, and the jury was overwhelmingly white.
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 he 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.
Judge Schroeder, known for his loquacious and occasionally cranky courtroom manner, talked to the jury pool about their responsibility as jurors, offering commentary on judicial bias, the history of democracy and the fall of Rome.
He pushed back against comments from potential jurors who said they had read and talked too much about the trial, which has been an all-consuming topic of conversation in Kenosha for weeks. When 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, Judge Schroeder stopped him.
“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.”
The potential jurors were summoned from across Kenosha County, including people who live in the heart of the city of Kenosha along Lake Michigan, where the protests, looting and arson occurred, as well as those from rural farming communities in the western part of the county, on the other side of the expressway connecting Chicago and Milwaukee.
Kenosha County is nearly split politically, voting for former President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, then flipping to narrow victories for former President Donald J. Trump in 2016 and 2020.
Judge Schroeder sent home dozens of potential jurors, including one woman who told him that she had recently moved to Chicago, but he was hesitant to excuse others with more minor troubles: a scheduled surgery, a work conflict, a health problem that causes debilitating migraines.
Many people in the jury pool said that not only had they followed the news in the Rittenhouse case, but they had formed such deeply held views on it that they were not comfortable serving on the jury.
“I just can’t see how I can get it out of my head,” one man told the judge of his opinions, just before he was dismissed.
Understand the Trial of Kyle Rittenhouse
Kyle Rittenhouse, 18, is on trial for the killing of two people protesting the police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wis. Here’s what to know:
“My opinion is set in stone on this,” another man said.
One woman said her husband had such strong feelings about the Rittenhouse case that serving on a jury whose decision went against his view meant, she said in a quavering voice, that she “would not want to go home.”
Thomas Binger, a prosecutor, asked the potential jurors if they had given money to Mr. Rittenhouse’s defense fund; if they or family members had participated in the demonstrations in August; and if they agreed that human life was more valuable than property.
As they answered questions, prospective jurors spoke of the nights of protest and violence in August 2020 and the precautions they had taken as dozens of businesses were damaged and burned.
Some said that family members, friends and fellow churchgoers had businesses and property that were damaged during the riots, had fled the city of Kenosha out of fear, or had moved their vehicles to the back side of the house so they would not be targets for vandals.
One woman said her family had a blue light in front of its house as a symbol of support for the Police Department, but removed it as violence broke out.
Corey Chirafisi, a lawyer for Mr. Rittenhouse, questioned prospective jurors about their positions on guns and gun ownership, if they had connections to the civil unrest in Kenosha and whether they had emotional responses to it.
“How many people are angry about what happened?” he said, clarifying that he was referring to “the whole riots thing.”
Judge Schroeder interrupted him. “No, no, no, we’re not here for the riot,” the judge said.
Mr. Chirafisi continued: “Is there anybody here who is just angry about what happened to the point where they don’t feel they can sit and listen to the case?”
Juror 4, a man who said he lived near where the unrest occurred, responded.
“Just listening to it, I’m getting really anxious,” he said.
Some prospective jurors voiced fears of serving on the jury and eventually disappointing — or enraging — the public with the verdict.
“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.”
A planned protest outside the courthouse by the family of Jacob Blake, the man whose shooting by a Kenosha police officer on Aug. 23, 2020, set off protests and unrest, was small and quiet on Monday morning.
Just as things were getting underway in court, Justin Blake, Mr. Blake’s uncle, walked outside. In January, the county prosecutor decided not to criminally charge the officer who wounded Mr. Blake while trying to arrest him.
“We’re here to get justice,” Justin Blake said. “I’m sure any intelligent jury would find this guy guilty as hell.”
Mr. Blake was joined in front of the courthouse by a woman who said she was there to support Mr. Rittenhouse. The woman, who declined to give her full name, carried a small U.S. flag.
Dan Hinkel contributed reporting.