Kyle Rittenhouse’s explosive testimony could be a win for the defense and score sympathy from jurors, but it’s still a “huge” risk to put an emotional teen on the stand, legal experts told The Post Wednesday.
Rittenhouse, 18, testified on Wednesday and sobbed uncontrollably at one point as he described the moments before he shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum during a night of violent unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Aug. 25, 2020.
Wisconsin-based criminal attorney Tim O’Brien said putting Rittenhouse on the stand represents an opportunity for the defense to show Rittenhouse in a sympathetic light to jurors.
“You always want to try to humanize your client in order to get it away from him being a defendant, and instead to show that he was just a scared young man,” O’Brien said.
“You want the jury to think of him as a person with a name, a family. The difficulty is sometimes a defendant can turn on the tears and it could come off disingenuous. But usually, if there is true emotion, it could have a huge effect on the jury.”
O’Brien said Rittenhouse’s emotional outburst could show a certain “nervousness and innocence” that could be advantageous as jurors question his perception at the moment of the fatal shooting and the actions he says he took to defend himself, but it could also backfire.
“The prosecutor could say, ‘Look, here is a guy who carried a long rifle down the streets of the city, he was looking for trouble, he knew what he was doing.’ That’s the risk when you put that younger person on the stand,” the attorney explained.
“They might want to play up why he was there. If you come looking for trouble, you will find it.”
Bruce Rosen — a prominent Wisconsin-based criminal defense attorney who is often hired by defense teams to act as the prosecution to question and prepare defendants — called the decision to place the teen on the stand a calculated risk and said he was well prepared for cross examination.
“The defense knows to a large degree what are the crosshairs and where [Rittenhouse] is vulnerable. In that case, it would be a reasonable choice to testify,” said Rosen.
“Unless they [the defense] felt that the State did not prove their case sufficiently, then the defense could only present a risk for the client by testifying based on what the client saw.”
Rosen said putting Rittenhouse on the stand is “probably a good decision” but not void of risk.
“You don’t know what [the prosecution is] saving and it could be an ambush. As a defendant, you are vulnerable,” Rosen added.
Following a heated cross-examination, Lou Shapiro, a Los Angeles-based state and federal criminal defense attorney, said the teen was able to stick to the strategy.
“He is doing the best he can to not mess things up for the case that the defense has built thus far,” Shapiro said.
“He is guarded, defensive and sticking to the defense strategy.”
Shapiro added the judge’s sharp admonition against Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger’s line of questioning regarding Rittenhouse’s decision to remain silent after the fatal shootings was not surprising.
“The prosecutor’s blatant violation of the judge’s previous order to not speak about Rittenhouse exercising his right to remain silent after he was arrested reveals the sense of desperation that the prosecution is experiencing in this trial,” Shapiro said.
“He knew better and intentionally disregarded the judge’s ruling. And rather than apologizing, he doubled down on it, which only made things worse for him. The judge has every right to admonish him for his unprofessionalism.”
Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide. He claimed he fatally shot Rosenbaum, 36, and another man Anthony Huber, 26, in self-defense. He also shot and wounded another man, Gaige Grosskreutz.