Two recent jury trials

by Neil Rickert

This past week we saw the conclusion of two high profile jury trials. They were the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse and the trial of those accused of murdering Ahmoud Arbery. I’ll offer my comments on both cases.

I’ll file this post in “politics” because these cases became very political. However, the cases themselves really had more to do with law and justice than with politics.

Kyle Rittenhouse

We first heard of Rittenhouse, when news reports described him as travelling from Antioch, Illinois to Kenosha Wisconsin, carrying an AR15 style weapon, and killing two people and wounding another at a Black Lives Matter demonstration. He sounded like a vigilante, meting out vigilante justice to the demonstrators.

That was roughly the picture that I had going into the trial. That he had traveled some distance (I estimate 40-50 miles) to show up at the demonstration was consistent this picture.

As the trial got under way, we began to hear a different version. The defense lawyers were arguing that this was a case of self-defense rather than the actions of a vigilante. Of course we expected the defense team to have a different story from what we had heard. But then one of the prosecution witnesses, the man that Rittenhouse had wounded, admitted that he had threatened Rittenhouse before he had been shot. This was beginning to support the claims that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense.

It also turned out that Rittenhouse actually worked at a job in Kenosha. So his traveling some distance might not have been the action of a vigilante after all.

In the end, the jury found Rittenhouse not guilty. They accepted his self-defense claims.

In the circumstances, I respect the decision of the jury. There was far more ambiguity to the events than I had initially assumed. I still think that Rittenhouse made some poor judgements. But he was only 17 years old, so we expect some poor judgements at that age.

I do think that the press deserves some criticism for how they handled this story. As too often happens, they emphasized the dramatic and failed to adequately report the facts.

Ahmoud Arbery

We first heard of the Arbery case in the form of reports that Arbery had been shot while jogging in a white neighborhood. After that, the case seemed to languish for a while, though we did hear of protests from time to time. It now seems that there may have been an attempt to at a coverup.

Eventually, a video emerged showing that Arbery was unarmed and no threat to anyone. After that, the prosecutors got serious and brought the case to trial.

The trial itself was a demonstration of racism. The defense lawyers used their challenges so that there was only one black member of the jury. Even the judge acknowledged that this looked unfair.

The defense lawyers complained about the presence of Al Sharpton in the court. They later complained about the presence of Jesse Jackson.

The final witness for the defense was Travis McMichael, the man accused of the actual shooting. And he as much as admitted that Arbery was unarmed, and that he had not observed Arbery commit any crime.

The basic defense argument was that the men felt threatened by Arbery, and were acting in self defense. It was not a convincing argument. In their summation, they attempted to blame the incident on Arbery.

It seemed clear that the defense attorney knew that they had no case, and that their best hope was to appeal to the racism of the jurors.

This was an ugly case. But the jurors made a good decision. Travis McMichael was found guilty on all charges. The other two defendants were found guilty on several charges, including that of murder.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson has a pretty good review of what happened in her newsletter for Nov. 26, 2021. It seems that the press did a good job here, doggedly pursuing the case even when state authorities gave the impression that they wanted to let it fall through the cracks.

We do not know what sentences the men will receive. Sentencing has been delayed until later.

4 Responses to “Two recent jury trials”

  1. This is quite a good summation of the two cases.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Neil,

    I completely agree with your summation about the Ahmoud Arbery trial and the jury’s correct decision. In this trial the Prosecution litigated a very good and thorough case resulting in the exact verdict required, despite the ONE African-American jury member.

    On Rittenhouse’s trial I must disagree. I see (and still see) a whole host of major problems leading up to the unnecessary, unjustified murders of two protestors by a 17-yr old boy without a clue as to what he was inflaming/inciting illegitimately. I call his actions: Culpable Degrees of Intentional Criminal Negligence.

    Furthermore, the prosecution in this case totally effed-up their approach for a correct verdict at least on 3 critical reasons, likely many more…

    • The culpable degrees of Rittenhouse’s Intentional Criminal Negligence for bringing a loaded AR-15 style semi-automatic assault rifle to a Constitutionally endorsed protest (peaceful!!!) postured to fire at total strangers. Had the teenage boy been properly parented, educated, trained in law-enforcement, and deputized by the Kenosha Police Dept. or SWAT team… my argument would be utterly different here.

    • Rittenhouse was NOT on his own private property protecting his life or property. He went to Kenosha uninvited by law-enforcement to be any sort of legitimate “security & safety” on PUBLIC GROUNDS with a loaded assault rifle—i.e. projected appearance (motive) opposite of true 2nd Amendment Militia. Period.

    • All that was (probably?) required at the Kenosha protests was legitimate Riot-geared Police, in easily identifiable uniforms. What was the WORST possible gathering were immature, unruly, teenagers or adults searching out opportunities to fight, scuffle, or worse… use unauthorized lethal force on unarmed protestors. Now, the problem arose with the fact that Grosskreutz foolishly was armed, but ironically the one acting as an EMT. Yet, Rittenhouse shot him too! WTH?

    The whole ordeal in Kenosha, BY Kenosha law-enforcement was (purposely?) inadequate and DID NOT protect our citizens from harm and unauthorized, illegitimate “Security” intervening, i.e. Rittenhouse. In fact, had there been proper law-enforcement already there and Riot-police already there…. I’d imagine that they would’ve shot and wounded (or killed) Rittenhouse.

    Bottom-line, 1) the prosecution did a very very poor job in limiting their approach by not adequately determining WHEN and WHERE “self-defense” is a person’s legal right and when/where it is clearly not! And 2) because of #1 the prosecution was horribly restricted by the judge as to proper, accurate terms and labels upon Rittenhouse—who again, was NOT in a legally “defensible” posture or place. However, I must concede that I do not know Wisconsin Criminal Law, especially on PUBLIC grounds, not (owned) private-property.

    Anyway, this is MY own personal summation of the entire cluster-f**k by Kenosha law-enforcement NOT protecting American protestors, at least not the UNARMED protestors. The entire C.F. began with the (white) police officer getting off scot-free, then it just snowballed and was increasingly exacerbated (and politicized) by more eff-ups and without adequate interpretation of our Constitution’s Amendments on PUBLIC grounds.

    What’s done is done, at least in criminal courts. Now come all the civil lawsuits.

    Provocative post Neil. Thank you Sir. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person


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