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Sending Kyle Rittenhouse to Wisconsin for trial would 'turn him over to the mob,' lawyers say

Lawyers for the Illinois 17-year-old accused of killing two protesters in Kenosha also told a judge that the case is "a political prosecution," not a legitimate criminal matter.

Lawyers for Kyle Rittenhouse, an Illinois 17-year-old accused of killing two protesters after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, argued in a court filing that extraditing him to Wisconsin for trial “would be to turn him over to the mob.”

The attorneys for the teen from Antioch, Illinois, also told a judge Friday that video evidence shows the case is "a political prosecution."

Rittenhouse is accused of fatally shooting two protesters and wounding a third Aug. 25 during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Defense lawyers say their client was acting in self-defense in the fatal shooting of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26.

The teen defendant appeared before a judge in Lake County, Illinois, via a video feed for a scheduled hearing as his attorneys fight efforts to send him to Wisconsin. He is being held in Illinois on homicide charges.

Dressed in a black sweatshirt and wearing a mask, Rittenhouse did not speak during the hearing. His attorney, John Pierce, said the defense needs more time to fight his extradition.

"It's no secret that this is a very unique, extraordinary situation. There is a massive amount of video that shows it's not a legitimate criminal prosecution, it's a political prosecution," Pierce said.

"There are serious issues with the extradition paperwork that, in fact, bolster the fact that this is a political prosecution."

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker had signed off on the extradition paperwork, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, but Pierce said the defense team was not given a chance "to look at them in the first instance without any notice."

"There is no reason to rush," Pierce said during the hearing. "There is danger to this detainee. There is a presidential candidate in the heat of the most heated election ever, certainly since 1860, that has inflamed the situation. And we simply ask that this detainee's due process rights be observed so we can challenge this in the proper way and ensure that this is a legitimate criminal prosecution and not something else."

Judge Paul Novak scheduled another hearing on the matter for Oct. 30.

Image: Kyle Rittenhouse
Kyle Rittenhouse, left, walks along Sheridan Road in Kenosha, Wis., on Aug. 25, 2020, with another armed civilian.Adam Rogan / The Journal Times via AP file

In court records filed late Thursday, Rittenhouse’s attorneys argued that he was acting in self-defense when he fatally shot the two people protesting the police shooting of Blake, a Black man. Extraditing him to Wisconsin would violate his constitutional rights, the lawyers said.

The defense also argues that Wisconsin prosecutors and Illinois authorities didn’t follow legal technicalities required for extradition. A Kenosha County prosecutor didn’t immediately respond to an email after hours Thursday about the extradition paperwork.

Extradition is typically a straightforward process, and legal experts have expressed doubt that Rittenhouse’s attorneys could successfully prevent a court from sending him to Wisconsin to face charges there.

His arrest has become a rallying point for some on the right, with a legal defense fund that has attracted millions of dollars in donations. But others see Rittenhouse as a domestic terrorist whose presence with a rifle incited the protesters.

The court filing echoes attorneys’ previous portrayal of Rittenhouse as a courageous patriot who was exercising his right to bear arms during unrest over the shooting of Blake.

“The premature and unsupported charges are contributing to unwarranted public condemnation,” attorneys wrote. “Rittenhouse has been publicly branded a ‘mass murderer,’ a ‘terrorist,’ a ‘racist,’ and more.”

Rittenhouse was arrested at his home in Antioch a day after the shootings at the protest.

Rittenhouse, who is white, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the killing of the two white protesters and attempted intentional homicide in the wounding of a third. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of underage firearm possession for wielding a semi-automatic rifle.

If convicted of first-degree homicide, Rittenhouse would be sentenced to life in prison.

Legal experts had questioned what basis Rittenhouse’s attorneys could use to fight his extradition, which is usually an uncontested step. Mike Nerheim, the Lake County state’s attorney, has said that the Illinois governor signed a warrant to return Rittenhouse to Wisconsin after a request from Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a fellow Democrat.

The killings happened amid protests on Kenosha’s streets two days after a white police officer shot Blake seven times in the back, sparking outrage after video of the shooting was posted online. A Wisconsin Department of Justice investigation into that shooting is ongoing. The three responding officers are on administrative leave.

According to prosecutors and court documents, Rittenhouse shot and killed Rosenbaum, of Kenosha, after Rosenbaum threw a plastic bag at Rittenhouse, missing him, and tried to wrestle his rifle away.

While trying to get away in the immediate aftermath, Rittenhouse was captured on cellphone video saying, “I just killed somebody.” According to the complaint filed by prosecutors, someone in the crowd said, “Beat him up!” and another yelled, “Get him! Get that dude!”

Video shows that Rittenhouse tripped in the street. As he was on the ground, Huber, of Silver Lake, hit him with a skateboard and tried to take his rifle away. Rittenhouse opened fire, killing Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, of West Allis, who was holding a handgun.

Rittenhouse’s extradition would not be an issue if he had been arrested in Kenosha the night of the shootings. Cellphone video that captured some of the action shows that right after the shootings, Rittenhouse walked slowly toward a police vehicle with his hands up, only to be waved through by police.

He returned to his Illinois home and turned himself in soon after. Police later blamed the chaotic conditions for why they didn’t arrest Rittenhouse at the scene.