The judge in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial explained his widely criticized move to allow the defendant — on trial for homicide in connection to the killing of two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin — to randomly select dismissed jurors out of a tumbler.
In Wisconsin, 18 to 20 jurors are initially picked to sit on a trial. Following closing arguments, the extra jurors are removed before deliberation to establish a 12-person jury. It is rare, however, that the defendant themselves — in this case, Rittenhouse — is given agency over their fate by randomly plucking out the dismissed jurors’ numbers out of a tumbler. He did so before the jury began deliberating on Monday.
On Wednesday, Judge Bruce Schroeder defended the controversial decision, citing the reports of “how bizarre and unusual it was to have the defendant pick the numbers out of the tumbler” while admitting that he doesn’t “know that there’s a large number of courts to do that, maybe not any.”
Schroeder explained that over the past 20 years he has allowed defendants to narrow down the jury pool. He mentioned a case in Racine, Wisconsin, in which a Black defendant had a 13-person jury pool, including only one Black juror. The Black juror was dismissed after their number was pulled by the court’s clerk, who customarily is tasked with pulling the numbers from the tumbler. Following that trial, Schroeder began allowing the defendants to pull the numbers themselves.
“What do they talk about, ‘optics,’ nowadays? Is that the word for things?” Schroeder said of that Racine trial. “That was a bad optic, I thought. I think people feel better when they have control. Ever since that case, I’ve had an almost-universal policy of having the defendant [pull the numbers]. It had nothing to do with anybody’s race. I’ve never had a complaint about it before.”
Schroeder added that complaints over his actions were simply an attempt to “undermine the result of the trial,” the Associated Press reports.
Despite Schroeder’s “almost-universal policy,” a Wisconsin district attorney who tried a high-profile murder case in front of Schroeder in 2008 said the court clerk — and not his client — picked the jury numbers. Still, Milwaukee-based defense attorney Tom Grieve told the Associated Press, “I don’t really care. The point is they have some system to arrive at 12 jurors. It’s certainly unusual but I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
The jury in the Rittenhouse trial continued their deliberations Wednesday.
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