US teen charged in Kenosha shootings fights extradition

Kyle Rittenhouse is charged in connection with shootings that killed two people at protest in US state of Wisconsin.

Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with killing two people and injuring another during demonstrations in Kenosha, Wisconsin, appeared during a court hearing in Illinois today. [19th Judicial Circuit Court/Handout via Reuters]

Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager charged with killing two protesters and injuring another during demonstrations about race and justice in Kenosha, Wisconsin last month, will fight extradition from the US state of Illinois, his lawyer told a court hearing on Friday.

Rittenhouse, 17, has been charged by Kenosha County’s district attorney with six criminal counts in connection with the shooting of three people who tried to subdue or disarm him during protests on August 25, two of whom died.

Rittenhouse participated in the hearing at the Lake County Circuit Court in Illinois via video link from the detention facility where he is being held. He was wearing a black sweatshirt and a grey mask covered his face.

“Good morning, your honour,” he said to the judge in his only remarks in the hearing, which lasted just a few minutes.

Rittenhouse’s lawyers have said he acted in self-defence and have portrayed him as a courageous patriot who was exercising his right to bear arms during unrest over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man.

Kyle Rittenhouse raising his arms up as he walks towards law enforcement vehicles during a protest last month in Kenosha, Wisconsin [File: Brendan Gutenschwager/via Reuters]

The deadly Kenosha shootings occurred amid nationwide protests against anti-Black racism and police violence in the United States – and only two days after police in the Wisconsin city shot Blake seven times in the back, leaving him paralysed from the waist down.

During the Friday hearing, Rittenhouse’s lawyer John Pierce said he intends to challenge the extradition from Illinois “by writ of habeas corpus”.

Judge Paul Novak gave the defence 14 days to review papers and file pleadings before the October 9 hearing.

Pierce had asked for a month to prepare arguments challenging extradition that he said involve “issues of some complexity, frankly that have not arisen in the country for some time”.

He did not provide further details at the hearing about the basis for the challenge. The delay in returning Rittenhouse to Wisconsin is the second in the case.

The deadly shootings in Kenosha came amid US-wide protests against police brutality and anti-Black racism [File: Kerem Yucel / AFP]

Mike Nerheim, the Lake County state’s attorney, said after the hearing that Illinois Governor JB Pritzker had signed a warrant to return Rittenhouse to Wisconsin after a request was made by Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, a fellow Democrat.

Rittenhouse’s lawyer asked for a chance to review the warrant, which Nerheim said he had received Friday morning.

Rare request

David Erickson, a former state appellate judge who teaches at Chicago Kent College of Law, said challenges to extradition are rare. When challenges do occur, he said, there are generally two arguments: that no crime was committed in the other state or that the defendant was not the person who committed the crime.

But Rittenhouse’s lawyers’ stated plan to pursue a habeas corpus challenge, which is generally defined as an argument that there are legal grounds for a defendant’s release, is even further outside the norm, Erickson said.

“It’s going to be some unique kind of theory, that’s for sure,” he said. “It’s not the standard two of ‘it ain’t me’ or ‘there’s no crime’,” he said.

When extradition is challenged, a judge will hold a hearing to consider arguments and witness testimony, Erickson said. If the court does not rule in Rittenhouse’s favour, he could appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. But Erickson said he doubts it would take up such an appeal because the likeliest reason to overturn an extradition ruling would be a judge abusing his or her discretion.

Novak seems to be approaching the case with caution by giving Rittenhouse’s team weeks to prepare their arguments, Erickson said.

Six criminal counts

Rittenhouse is charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the killing of two protesters and attempted intentional homicide in the wounding of a third. He also faces a misdemeanour charge of underage firearm possession for wielding a semiautomatic rifle.

If convicted of first-degree homicide, Rittenhouse faces a mandatory life in prison sentence.

KENOSHA, WISCONSIN - AUGUST 25: As tear gas fills the air, police try to push back demonstrators near the Kenosha County Courthouse during a third night of unrest on August 25, 2020 in Kenosha, Wiscon
Tear gas filling the air as police in riot gear try to push back demonstrators near the Kenosha County Courthouse [File: Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP]

Rittenhouse’s extradition might not be an issue at all if he had been arrested in Kenosha the night of the shootings.

A mobile phone video that captured some of the action shows Rittenhouse afterwards walking slowly towards 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 not arresting Rittenhouse at the scene.

Source: News Agencies