A juror in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial has been dismissed for making what prosecutors derided as a joke to a court official about the police shooting of a Black man that sparked the violent protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020.
On Thursday, Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder removed the unnamed man, known as juror number 7, from the jury after he refused to repeat what he'd said.
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger requested the dismissal of the juror, described by reporters in the courtroom as an "elderly white man."
“I wasn’t there. I don’t know exactly what the juror said, but it was my understanding that it was something along the lines of ‘Why did the Kenosha police shoot Jacob Blake seven times?'" Binger said. "It's my understanding that the rest of the joke is 'Because they ran out of bullets.'"
On Aug. 23, 2020, a 29-year-old unarmed Black man named Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer while walking to his car. His three children were seated inside the car and saw the incident. Blake was paralyzed from the waist down as a result of his injuries. Protests and riots erupted in the wake of the shooting and, two days after Blake was shot, the streets of Kenosha became the site of Rittenhouse's alleged criminal activity.
Rittenhouse, 18, is accused of fatally shooting two people and wounding another during the protests on Aug. 25. On Tuesday, he pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree homicide, one count of attempted homicide, two counts of recklessly endangering safety, and one count of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 (he was 17 years old at the time).
When questioned by Schroeder, juror number 7 admitted to making the "joke" to a court deputy while being escorted to his car earlier in the week.
Binger argued that the juror's comments suggested "some sort of racial bias which I think comes in to play in this case." Rittenhouse's lawyers did not object to the dismissal. "If Number 7 is unwilling to repeat it, what it was, we’re at a disadvantage and I suppose we can take his unwillingness in the worst light," defense attorney Corey Chirafisi said.
Juror number 7 attempted to defend himself to the judge by arguing that the "joke" was not relevant to the trial. "My feeling is, it was nothing to do with the case," he said. "It wasn't anything to do with Kyle and his seven charges."
"The point I’m making is that the public needs to be confident that this is a fair trial and I think — at the very most, it was bad judgment to tell a joke of that nature," Schroeder said before thanking the former juror for his time.
With this dismissal, Rittenhouse's jury is now comprised of 19 individuals: 11 women and 8 men. Journalists in the Kenosha courtroom have reported that there is only one person of color in the jury; the other 18 men and women are white.
Twelve of these individuals will be jurors who decide the case, and the other seven will be alternates. During the jury selection process on Monday, Schroeder said that he will appoint the jurors and the alternates at the end of the trial, which is expected to last for two weeks.