Lawyers for Kyle Rittenhouse say extraditing the teenager to face homicide charges in Wisconsin would be akin to “turning him over to the mob” and violate his constitutional rights.
Rittenhouse, 17, has been held at an Illinois juvenile detention center since Aug. 26 after he fatally shot two people and wounded a third during violent civil unrest in Kenosha the night before. The demonstrations erupted after a Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake in the back on Aug. 23, leaving him paralyzed.
In a petition for habeas corpus, his attorneys say the teen had “answered his patriotic and civic duty” to help protect property and provide first aid during “a destructive insurrection.” Among conservative news outlets and social media, Rittenhouse has become a symbol, a cause celébrè whose shots, one of his lawyers tweeted, were those of the start of a new revolution.
The criminal complaint lays out how Rittenhouse, who could not legally possess the assault-style rifle he carried that night and was in violation of a city curfew, waded into the volatile and chaotic scene and wound up killing two people and seriously wounding another with rifle shots.
In filing the charges very quickly, prosecutors relied on the same videos the defense argues shows Rittenhouse acted in self-defense.
But prosecutors, some news media and social media platforms, his lawyers argue, have portrayed Rittenhouse as a violent white supremacist and mass murderer, leading to threats against his life, potential bias among future jurors and a slowdown in crowdsourced fundraising for his defense, which has already eclipsed $2 million.
The petition also claims technical errors in various extradition documents make them invalid.
During a brief court hearing Friday, a Lake County, Illinois, judge gave Lake County prosecutors a week to respond to the habeas petition and set a hearing date for Oct. 30.
At the hearing, defense attorney John Pierce of Los Angeles, said extensive video from the night of the shootings “shows this is not a legitimate prosecution, it’s a political prosecution.” Supporters say Rittenhouse’s actions were such obvious self-defense that he shouldn’t have been charged. His defense team has released an 11-minute video to support its view.
Most of the petition describes the by now well-known events of the evening of Aug. 25, as captured on video by numerous other participants:
Early that evening, Rittenhouse, armed with an AR-15 rifle, and other armed men told reporters they were protecting a car business, and Rittenhouse said he was also there to provide first aid to injured protesters.
He later fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, after he chased Rittenhouse onto a car lot where Rittenhouse’s lawyers say he was trapped and Rosenbaum tried to grab the teen’s rifle.
Others then begin to chase Rittenhouse and yell he’d shot someone. As he runs north toward approaching police, Rittenhouse stumbles and fires at three people who attack him on the ground, missing one, killing Anthony Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz.
When he tries to surrender, police tell him to get off the street as they respond to the other shootings. Rittenhouse returned home to Antioch, Illinois, and then went to police.
Within two days, Kenosha prosecutors charged Rittenhouse with first-degree intentional homicide, reckless homicide, reckless endangerment and unlawful possession of a gun.
The habeas petition argues that Kenosha County Deputy District Attorney Carli
McNeil did not sign the complaint in front of a magistrate or judge, only before a fellow prosecutor.
It also claims Illinois officials relied on false paperwork to arrest Rittenhouse on Aug. 26, because the Kenosha complaint was not issued until Aug. 27.
But the defense asks the Illinois judge to look beyond possible technicalities and says Rittenhouse is the rare case in which the substance of the charges in the demanding state should be considered.
“By allowing extradition, Illinois would violate Rittenhouse’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from arrest and detention without probable cause because there is video evidence showing without a shadow of a doubt Rittenhouse’s actions were self-defense.”
They also argue that in Wisconsin, Rittenhouse would be held in adult jail, “subjecting him to a legion of hazards.” His lawyers cite a request on a prisoners-oriented Twitter account seeking information about Rittenhouse’s location.
The habeas corpus petition is signed by Pierce — who does not normally practice criminal defense — and Michael E. Baker, a Chicago criminal defense attorney who is part of the defense team Pierce has been assembling with L. Lin Wood, an Atlanta-based defamation lawyer.
Mark Richards, a veteran criminal defense lawyer in Racine, is Rittenhouse’s attorney of record in the Kenosha case. Neither Wood nor Pierce is licensed to practice in Wisconsin.
Shortly before the Kenosha events, Wood and Pierce had formed #FightBack Foundation, a Texas nonprofit to raise money to sue the “fake news media” and “check the lies of the left.” But they quickly connected with Rittenhouse’s family and announced they would represent him and solicited millions in donations for his legal defense.
Pierce quickly announced he was stepping down from the foundation’s board amid news that he and prior incarnations of his law firm owe millions to vendors and private litigation funders.
Wood, meanwhile, is also being sued by his former partners and is battling Twitter over its suspensions of his account over the content of his posts. He has recently been threatening to sue former Vice President Joe Biden and his presidential campaign for a video Wood says falsely portrays Rittenhouse as a white supremacist or militia member.
Pierce and Rittenhouse’s mother were applauded at a recent Waukesha County Republican event, where they appeared with conservative commentator Michelle Malkin.