Rittenhouse judge calls media coverage of trial 'really quite frightening'
The judge in Kyle Rittenhouse’s murder trial on Wednesday called the media coverage of the high-profile case “really quite frightening" and said it may cause him to prohibit TV cameras in his courtroom going forward.
The comments came as the jury broke from its second day of deliberations to ask a question about how they can view video evidence from the trial. When the jury wasn’t present, Kenosha County, Wis., Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder took the opportunity to complain about the way the national media has scrutinized the trial and, in particular, the way he has presided over it.
Schroeder, who is the longest-serving circuit court judge in Wisconsin, has emerged as a polarizing figure during the trial, prompting criticism for both formal rulings and offhanded remarks.
“I’m gonna think long and hard about live television at trial again, next time,” Schroeder said Wednesday. “I've always been a firm believer in it because I believe the people should be able to see what’s going on. But when I see what’s being done, it’s really quite frightening.”
Specifically, Schroeder seemed to take issue with some of the reactions to his unusual method of selecting the final 12 jurors who will decide the fate of the 18-year-old Rittenhouse, who is being tried for fatally shooting two people and injuring another during tense protests against racial injustice in Kenosha in the summer of 2020. On Tuesday, Schroeder instructed Rittenhouse to pull six numbers at random from a raffle drum to determine which jurors would serve as alternates and be excused while the remaining 12 moved on to deliberations.
Typically, alternate jurors are chosen at random by the judge or court clerk. But in interviews with a number of news outlets, many legal experts said that while it’s certainly unorthodox to have a defendant select his own jury, it’s not necessarily problematic as long as the selection is still completely random.
John P. Gross, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Public Defender Project, told NBC News: “It was an interesting piece of theater having the judge inviting the defendant to make the draw.”
Still, Schroeder felt compelled to defend the method on Wednesday, arguing that critics were trying to “undermine the result of the trial.” He explained that he first began letting defendants draw alternate jurors after a particular trial in Racine, Wis., with a Black defendant where the clerk drew the jury numbers and the only Black juror ended up being dismissed.
“What do they talk about, ‘optics,’ nowadays? Is that the word for things?” Schroeder said. “That was a bad optic, I thought.”
Schroeder then continued to rail against the media, lamenting what he called the “grossly irresponsible handling of what comes out of this trial.” He defended, once more, his controversial pretrial ruling prohibiting attorneys from using the word “victim” to describe the men shot by Rittenhouse, while saying that “rioters,” “looters” or “arsonists” could potentially be used.
“Is it so difficult to just use the term ‘complaining witness’ instead of prejudging what the jury is here to determine, as to whether there was a victim and whether there was a crime committed?” he asked.
This wasn’t the first time Schroeder has castigated the media from the courtroom. Early on in the trial, he complained about the backlash over his “victim” ruling when he dismissed a juror for making a joke about the police shooting of Jacob Blake, which had sparked the protests that drew Rittenhouse — who lived 20 miles away in Antioch, Ill. — to Kenosha. Schroeder made clear then that he was paying close attention to the media coverage and said he was concerned that “the appearance of bias” on the jury could “seriously undermine the outcome of the case.”
And yet Schroeder’s behavior in the courtroom has continued to make headlines — from his angry rebukes of the prosecution to his awkward attempt to honor Veterans Day by ordering the court to applaud for a defense witness — prompting some to accuse him of bias.