After a Wisconsin jury exonerated Kyle Rittenhouse from all charges against his, Mark Richards, defense attorney, took aim at his predecessors. He said that his tactics, which were based on Rittenhouse's portrayal of Rittenhouse as a rallying point for the rights to carry weapons and defend yourself, were not his.
"I was hired in the first round by the two lawyers. Richards stated Friday that he would not use their names. "They wanted Kyle to be used for a cause that was not appropriate -- and I don’t represent causes. I represent clients.
Richards smiled brightly as he spoke to reporters outside of his Racine law office following the acquittal. He said that the only thing that was important to him was "whether he is found not guilty or innocent."
Richards made a very appropriate comment. He spent the preceding months with Corey Chirafisi as co-counsel. "I don’t do interviews," he replied brusquely in December to an emailed request.
Fox News published an exclusive interview with Rittenhouse and announced an upcoming documentary. The footage showed that a crew was present with Richards during the trial. Richards said Saturday to The Associated Press that he did not approve of the crew, but that Rittenhouse had arranged it.
He said that it was not approved by him, but he's not always in control.
No matter what was going on behind the scenes the strategy of Richards and Chirafisi was clear in court: get the jury view Rittenhouse like a scared teenager who tried to save his life.
They remained focused on the 2 minutes, 55 seconds during which the shootings took place -- those critical moments in which Rittenhouse (then 17) said that he felt threatened and pulled the trigger.
Dean Strang, a Loyola University Chicago School of Law distinguished professor in residence and defense attorney, said that the defendants have a client who is a human being. Strang, who spoke to AP before Friday’s verdict but was not connected to the case said Richards, Chirafisi and Rittenhouse see Rittenhouse as an 18-year old kid who landed into a lot of trouble, much more than he could handle.
Rittenhouse, who had brought an AR-style rifle with him to protest and claimed he was protecting property of a stranger, was originally represented by Lin Wood and John Pierce, who described Rittenhouse as a defender and patriot exercising his right to bear arm. Pierce tweeted a video showing Rittenhouse talking by phone from Illinois jail, where he is from, and thanking his supporters. A group connected to Rittenhouse's legal team released a video that said Rittenhouse was being "sacrificed" by politicians whose "end goal" was to end the "constitutional rights of all citizens to defend their communities."
Rivers of money were flowing into a legal defense fund, more than enough to pay Rittenhouse's $2 million bail. But Wood quit the case and began to press the false claim that Donald Trump had won. Pierce left the criminal case after Rittenhouse's prosecutors told him he shouldn’t be allowed raise money for Rittenhouse. But he continued to the civil side until Rittenhouse fired him in February.
Richards recalled his first meeting with Rittenhouse on Friday: "I told him when he first met me, that if he is looking for someone to take off on a crusade and I was not his lawyer."
Richards, a gravel-voiced, gruff man who often sat back in his chair during proceedings, had appeared to be the leading attorney in the months prior to the trial. He called Chirafisi "not second chair" and described him as his "best friend".
They were prepared to appear in court. Richards used multiple videos in his opening statement, over the objections of prosecutors who didn't seize this opportunity.
They demanded a mistrial because they felt that prosecutors were acting in bad-faith. seemed to be able to get a gun charge dropped and outmaneuver the prosecutors.
They carefully calculated their most important decision, Rittenhouse taking the stand. This could have a potentially devastating cross-examination. Richards stated that they had compared their case to a pair mock juries and found Rittenhouse's testimony was significantly better.
He said, "It was not a close call."
Richards is an experienced courtroom lawyer. He was a Racine and Kenosha County prosecutor in the 1980s, before opening his own firm in 1990 which specializes in criminal defense. Chirafisi, a former prosecutor, has been practicing law more than twenty years. His law firm can be found in Madison.
The attorneys repeatedly refuted the notion that Rittenhouse was an outsider who was drawn to Kenosha because of the chaos. They also noted that Rittenhouse's father lived in Antioch, Illinois and Rittenhouse worked as a Kenosha County lifeguard. Richards felt the same distress watching the violence unfold in Kenosha, from Racine, where he lived after Jacob Blake was shot by a white officer.
Although Rittenhouse tried to prove that Rittenhouse was a vigilante who overreacted in the case, he and his attorneys argued that Rittenhouse was simply defending himself. Richards stated to the jury that jurors would end up viewing it from the perspective of a 17 year-old in the same circumstances.
Rittenhouse and Rittenhouse were quick to object when Rittenhouse was present on the stand. They called it badgering.
After Thomas Binger, the prosecution's main questioner, was rebuffed by the defense, Chirafisi suggested that Binger wanted to incite a mistrial, as the state was doing poorly.
Chirafisi stated to the judge, "I don’t know that it’s my responsibility to sit here and decide who’s winning." "I don’t believe that’s necessarily what I’m supposed to do." However, I believe the court must make certain findings regarding the bad faith of the prosecution.
Richards and Chirafisi shared the trial duties, with Richards handling the opening and closing statements and Chirafisi handling most of the witness testimony. Richards claimed that the two disagreed over who would question Gaige grosskreutz, who was holding a gun when Rittenhouse shot him and injured him.
Richards claimed that Chirafisi was the winner -- and that he did a better job than what he would have. Chirafisi convinced Grosskreutz that he had shot Rittenhouse with his gun.
Chirafisi said, "It wasn’t until you pointed a gun at him, advanced upon him...that he fired."
"Correct," Grosskreutz replied. Grosskreutz, who was being questioned by the prosecutor, said that he didn't mean to point his weapon at Rittenhouse.
Strang, who represented Steven Avery in the case that was documented by Netflix's "Making a Murderer," series, said Chirafisi was quick-witted, and engaged in courtroom conversations. Strang stated that Richards is slow to anger but will not let go if he feels something is unfair.
Richards' closing argument was a perfect example of this. He blasted at the prosecutors and accused Binger repeatedly of lying. The jurors were riveted. Richards expressed his disgust at Friday's presentation of the case by the prosecutors.
He also blamed social media, saying that it spread "not the truth" about the Kenosha events right after they occurred -- something he said "something we had work to overcome in court."
Richards stated to reporters, "I knew that this case was large." Richards said, "I didn't know it would be this large."