(WAUKEGAN, Ill.) — An Illinois judge on Friday ordered the extradition of a 17-year-old accused in the fatal shooting of two demonstrators in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The ruling in Kyle Rittenhouse’s case came after a hearing at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, Illinois. Defense lawyers sought to persuade Judge Paul Novak to block their client’s transfer to Wisconsin to face homicide charges.
Rittenhouse’s attorneys argued he acted in self-defense on Aug. 25 when he opened fire during unrest after the shooting of a Black man by a white police officer in Kenosha. They said the charges are politically motivated and that extraditing the teenager would violate his constitutional rights.
Lake County prosecutors have said those arguments were irrelevant on the question of extradition and that it’s the role of a Wisconsin judge, not one in Illinois, to decide whether there are sufficient grounds for charges.
In Wisconsin, Rittenhouse faces first-degree intentional homicide for fatally shooting two protesters, which carries a life prison sentence. He is also charged with attempted intentional homicide in the wounding of a third protester.
As the hearing began, Kyle Rittenhouse’s lawyer said he’d had a change of heart since notifying the court he planned to call witnesses, including Rittenhouse’s mother. Instead, John Pierce said he would focus on what he called “fatal defects” in extradition papers.
After 45 minutes of arguments delving into the minutia of extradition law and how precedent should be interpreted, Pierce said his client should remain in Illinois. “This Illinois child must go free,” he told the judge.
A local prosecutor said the law is unambiguous in requiring Rittenhouse’s extradition, saying that blocking his transfer would undermine the justice system.
“You can imagine the chaos if someone can commit a crime and step over the [state borderline] and get sanctuary,” Lake County Assistant State’s Attorney Stephen Scheller said.
The shootings happened Aug. 25, two days after a white police officer trying to arrest Jacob Blake shot the 29-year-old Black man seven times in the back, paralyzing him from the waist down. Video of the police shooting sparked outrage and helped spur on the protests.
Rittenhouse’s case has become a rallying point for some conservatives who see him as a patriot who was exercising his right to bear arms during unrest. Others portray him as a domestic terrorist who incited protesters by showing up wielding a rifle.
Kyle Rittenhouse appears for an extradition hearing in Lake County court Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, in Waukegan, Ill.
Nam Y. Huh—AP
Rittenhouse sat at a defense table Friday wearing a dress shirt, tie and mask. He appeared calm and at least once turned to look at his mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, on a spectators’ bench. Later, as officers led him from the hearing room, she began to cry.
Near the courthouse steps, around 20 protesters, some wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, chanted, “Kyle is a murderer!”
During arguments, Pierce at one point said, “This is a political prosecution.” The prosecutor objected and the judge instructed Pierce to stick to issues of law.
Without witnesses from either side, the part of the hearing meant for evidence and testimony lasted less than 30 seconds, when Scheller handed the judge Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signed warrant calling for Rittenhouse’s extradition.
Pierce told Novak that Wisconsin authorities were required by law to present charging documents to a magistrate judge and that their failure to do so rendered their extradition request invalid.
State-to-state extraditions are typically formalities and judges rarely refuse another state’s request to transfer a suspect. Efforts to fight extradition are nearly always in vain but can help attorneys buy time to compile evidence and prepare a defense.
The most serious charge Rittenhouse faces in Wisconsin is first-degree intentional homicide, which carries a life prison sentence. He is also charged with attempted intentional homicide in the wounding of a third protester, as well as a misdemeanor charge of underage firearm possession. His lawyers have argued he was acting in self-defense.
Rittenhouse and the man he allegedly injured are white, as were the two men who were killed.
A day after the shooting, Rittenhouse surrendered to police in his Illinois hometown of Antioch, some 10 miles (16 kilometers) southwest of Kenosha.
Legal experts say that on the rare occasions when state extradition cases are contested, defense lawyers usually argue that either no crime was committed in the other state or that the defendant was not the person who committed whatever crime occurred.
The defense made none of those arguments Friday.
According to prosecutors and court documents, Rittenhouse killed 36-year-old Joseph 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 a 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. As he was on the ground, 26-year-old Anthony Huber, of Silver Lake, hit him with a skateboard and tried to take his rifle. Rittenhouse opened fire, killing Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, of West Allis, who was holding a handgun.