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A lawyer for Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager accused of fatally shooting two demonstrators and wounding another at a Black Lives Matter protest last summer, claimed this week that he'd gunned down one victim because he was a sex offender.
According to a motion filed in court Thursday, Rittenhouse’s legal team is arguing that the teen opened fire on Jospeh Rosenbaum in Kenosha because the man wasn’t legally able to own his own gun, due to his criminal history.
“As a convicted felon and sex offender, he was unable to legally possess a firearm he was seeking to steal from my client,” Mark Richards, Rittenhouse’s defense lawyer told Oxygen.com on Thursday.
Rittenhouse shot and killed Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber during citywide protests following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in August 2020. Rittenhouse was charged with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide and attempted first-degree intentional reckless homicide.
Gaige Grosskreutz, who was also injured in the shooting, survived the incident.
Rittenhouse has claimed he opened fire in self-defense. He previously entered a not guilty plea to several charges related to the deadly shooting.
Rosenbaum was convicted of having sex with a minor in Arizona in 2002, according to the Associated Press.
Rittenhouse’s lawyer alleged Rosenbaum chased the armed teen through a parking lot and “attempted to disarm him before being shot.”
“It is the defense’s position that Rosenbaum sought to arm himself by stealing Mr. Rittenhouse’s weapon because he could not legally purchase a firearm due to his status as a convicted sex offender,” the motion stated, the Kenosha News reported.
Some legal experts have questioned the effectiveness of such an argument.
“I think it’s a creative strategy,” Dmitriy Shakhnevich, adjunct assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told Oxygen.com. “I think the lawyer is duty-bound to present that strategy. It’s every lawyer's duty to look into and present every available defense that is sound in law. That is part of zealously advocating for your client.”
The Brooklyn legal scholar said the approach laid out by Rittenhouse’s lawyers in motions filed this week could be “difficult to swing,” as a credible defense. Rittenhouse’s attorneys, Shakhnevich explained, ultimately must prove the teenager was in “imminent danger” when he pulled the trigger.
“Whether or not it’s a defense that will work, at the end of the day, self-defense is different in every state, but the elements are kind of similar,” Shakhnevich added. “If somebody threatens you — if somebody pushes you — you can’t take out a gun and shoot them in the head. The response has to be reasonable in light of the danger. That may be problematic in terms of this particular defense.”
“Much like members of the Proud Boys take pride in violence, the defendant is evidently proud that he killed two people and seriously wounded a third,” Assistant District Attorneys Thomas Binger and Jason Zapf wrote in further motions. “He has posed for selfies as if he is a celebrity. His family has sold merchandise with his image on it that celebrates his acts of violence. The fact that he has since celebrated his notoriety strongly suggests that he set out to achieve the goal of becoming famous.”
The teen’s lawyers have vigorously denied he’s involved with the white nationalist movement.
“There is no evidence that Mr. Rittenhouse is a member of the Proud Boys,” his defense states. “There is no evidence that Mr. Rittenhouse is a member of any organization relating to race or political hate groups. There has been no evidence that any witness involved in this matter is now — or has ever previously been — a member of an organization such as the Proud Boys.”
Rittenhouse’s legal team has further argued that Huber and Grosskreutz were “part of a mob” that had hunted down their client after shots had been fired. The court records accused Huber of hitting Rittenhouse with a skateboard while his face was being “stomped.”
The teenager's attorneys are also trying to have a charge removed that states that Rittenhouse was breaking the law by possessing an AR-15 style rifle as a minor; he was 17 years old at the time of the shooting. His attorney has also accused prosecutors of withholding crucial evidence in the case.
“We intend to be ready if the government provides us all the information we’re entitled to,” Richards said.
A hearing regarding the motions is scheduled for August. Rittenhouse’s trial, which has been delayed, is expected to get underway on Nov. 1. Earlier this year, prosecutors sought a warrant for Rittenhouse’s arrest, claiming he violated his bail conditions.
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