Defense attorneys for Kyle Rittenhouse are objecting to a state request for identities of people who donated to Rittenhouse’s defense or who purchased branded merchandise supporting the teen.
Rittenhouse, now 18, is accused of killing two men and seriously injuring a third during the unrest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in August 2020. He is charged with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide in the Aug. 25, 2020, incident.
The defense — and Rittenhouse’s supporters — have maintained he was acting in self defense.
Prosecutors last week filed a motion asking the court to require Rittenhouse to provide the names of people who donated to the legal defense or toward paying his $2 million bond, or who purchased Rittenhouse merchandise through a family website, arguing that they needed the information as part of their efforts to pick an unbiased jury.
“It is likely that there are individuals who reside in Kenosha County who have donated to the defendant’s legal defense funds. If any of them are potential jurors in this case, the Court and the parties have the right to know about this,” the prosecution motion states.
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On Monday the Rittenhouse defense team responded, stating the defense does not have the information the state is seeking, and that if they did have the information, the defense does not believe the state is entitled to it.
“The state has failed to cite any Wisconsin statute, or state or federal constitutional provision as an authority for its request,” the response from defense attorney Mark Richards states. “I am not aware of the existence of any legal authority anywhere entitling the state to such information.”
Richards said the defense has no contact with FightBack Foundation, a conservative fundraising organization run by civil attorney Lin Wood, who had become involved with the Rittenhouse defense shortly after the teenager was arrested. Wood stated that the organization provided the $2 million that was used to post Rittenhouse’s bond. Wood has since stepped back from the Rittenhouse case and became embroiled in efforts to overturn the election of President Joe Biden.
FreeKyleUSA, which sells branded Rittenhouse merchandise, and the Milo Foundation, which also accepts donations for the Rittenhouse defense, are controlled by Rittenhouse’s mother Wendy Rittenhouse, according to the website.
In the defense filing, Richards contends the state is attempting to find out who is paying for the defense. “I have been a criminal defense practitioner for over 30 years and know of absolutely no circumstances wherein the state or federal government is entitled to know who pays me, my office, or how much they have paid me,” Richards states in his response.
Richards suggests that the issue of whether any potential jurors have contributed to Rittenhouse’s defense fund should be handled through jury pool questionnaires or through voir dire, the questioning of potential jurors.
The defense attorney also stated that prosecutors could subpoena the information “if a proper showing is made.”
In his motion seeking the information, Binger argued “anyone who has donated money to the defendant’s legal defense funds or purchased products from his family’s website, FreeKyleUSA.com, is objectively biased and should be stricken for cause from serving on the jury in this case.”
Binger stated that while the court and attorneys could question potential jurors about donations, “ it is always prudent to verify their answers if possible.”
Binger said the state would not object to the overall information being provided to the judge for a private inspection, but asked that names of any donors who live in Kenosha County be provided to the state. “The State would request that upon that inspection, the Court disclose to the State the names of any Kenosha County residents who have donated to the defendant’s legal defense funds. Even if those individuals are not part of the jury pool in this case, it is possible that their relatives or associates may be, and the State would like the opportunity to investigate that if necessary,” Binger wrote.
Other pending motions
The request for names of Kenosha County donors to the defense is one of several motions Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder is being asked to consider before the scheduled Nov. 1 trial.
Among the motions are two separate “other acts” motions, with the state asking that it be allowed to present to the jury two past incidents involving Rittenhouse, one in which includes a video that shows a person the state identifies as Rittenhouse punching a girl during a dispute on Kenosha’s lakefront, along with another video in which a voice can be heard which the state identities as that of Rittenhouse. In that video, the person the state identifies as Rittenhouse says “Bro, I wish I had my (expletive) AR, I’d start shooting rounds at them,” while the video shows several people leaving a CVS pharmacy. According to the state motion, the video was taken two weeks before Rittenhouse admitted he shot the three men. According to the state, Rittenhouse believed the people in the CVS video were shoplifting.
While the most recent defense motion does not address the most recent “other acts” motion, additional defense filings in the case are pending.
Attorneys for the state and defense are scheduled to argue their pre-trial motions at a hearing scheduled for Sept. 17.