The judge presiding over Kyle Rittenhouse‘s murder trial in the United States has dismissed a juror after a court security officer reported that the man told a joke about the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Blake, who is Black, was shot multiple times by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year and left partially paralysed, setting off a wave of anti-police brutality protests in the city, at which Rittenhouse shot three demonstrators.
Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder on Thursday called the juror into the courtroom to discuss what he said, but the juror said he did not want to repeat his comments.
The judge said it was “clear that the appearance of bias is present and it would seriously undermine the outcome of the case” and that the juror would be dismissed.
The juror responded: “It wasn’t anything to do with the case. It wasn’t anything to do with Kyle.”
“The public needs to be confident that this is a fair trial,” Schroeder also told the juror.
Rittenhouse, an 18-year-old from the US state of Illinois, killed two people and injured a third during an August 25, 2020, protest against police brutality in Kenosha. The protests began after the police officer shot Blake in the back while responding to a reported domestic disturbance.
The police union has said Blake resisted arrest and was armed with a knife, and a Wisconsin prosecutor said in January that no criminal charges would be laid against the officer involved.
Twenty jurors were seated this week for Rittenhouse’s trial on homicide and other charges, with Schroeder saying he would decide later which 12 would decide the case and which would be alternates.
Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty to all the charges, and his defence team has argued he acted in self-defence.
But prosecutors earlier this week said he instigated the deadly violence. Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, now 27, in the arm.
“The evidence will show that the only person who killed anyone was the defendant, Kyle Rittenhouse,” Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger told the court on Tuesday.
The case has highlighted deep divisions in the US, with some conservatives seeing Rittenhouse as a patriot who was exercising his right to bear arms, while others portray him as a “domestic terrorist” who incited protesters by showing up at a demonstration wielding a rifle.
On Thursday, prosecutors replayed widely seen video of an interview that the conservative website The Daily Caller did with Rittenhouse before the shooting.
It began with Rittenhouse in front of a boarded-up building, where he said he and other men were there “to protect this business, and part of my job is there’s somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way”. He also said he was there to provide medical aid.
Kenosha Detective Martin Howard also testified that footage showed that a protester, Joshua Ziminski, had fired the first shot into the air two and a half seconds before Rittenhouse began shooting in the streets.
The defence has said that this shot made Rittenhouse think he was under attack.
On Wednesday, jurors were shown a series of graphic videos showing the chaotic moments after Rittenhouse shot the protesters, including one man who lay motionless and bleeding and another screaming as blood gushed from his arm.