Shortly after a Wisconsin jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges against him, defense attorney Mark Richards took a jibe at his predecessors, telling reporters their strategy—for the right to carry weapons and defend himself. Rittenhouse’s portrayal as a rallying point leaned in – were not it.
“I was hired by two lawyers earlier. I’m not going to use his name,” Richards said on Friday. “They wanted to use Kyle for a reason and something that I thought was inappropriate — and I don’t represent the reasons. I represent the customers.”
The angry rhetoric about Rittenhouse’s case did not subside with the change in attorneys. But Richards smiled as he spoke to reporters outside his Racine law office after his acquittal, saying that to him, the only thing that mattered was “whether he was found not guilty or not.”
Along with co-counselor Corey Chirafisi, he spent months pursuing the case in virtual silence — “I don’t do interviews,” he said ruthlessly to an email request in December — and trialled to downplay polarizing questions. Demanded Second Amendment rights.
This was a strategy that sometimes conflicted with other forces around Rittenhouse. Fox News had a camera crew embedded with Rittenhouse at some point, including before and after the verdict, collecting material for a documentary marketed as the “Tucker Carlson Original”. Carlson tweeted a promo for the documentary that aired in December, as well as teased an exclusive interview with Rittenhouse that aired Monday night.
The contingents sometimes sat in defense meetings. Richards told The Associated Press that he called it inappropriate and said he had dropped the crew several times. He said it was arranged by those who raised the money for Rittenhouse.
“It wasn’t approved by me, but I’m not always in control,” he said. “I think that fell apart from what we were trying to do, and it was clearly Kyle to be found not guilty.”
Despite what was happening behind the scenes, Richards and Chirafisi’s strategy in court was clear: ask the jury to treat Rittenhouse as a frightened teen who shot to save his life.
He repeatedly focused on the two minutes, 55 seconds the shooting unfolded – the crucial moment in which 17-year-old Rittenhouse said he sensed a threat and pulled the trigger.
“These guys have a client who’s a human … that’s what they’re focused on,” said Dean Strang, a defense attorney and professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Strang, who spoke to the AP ahead of Friday’s ruling and who was not associated with the case, said Richards and Chirafisi see Rittenhouse “as an 18-year-old kid who got into a whole lot of trouble, more than he did.” Much more than I could handle.”
In the days following the shooting, Rittenhouse—who brought an AR-style rifle to a protest, saying he was guarding a stranger’s property—was initially represented by attorneys John Pearce and Lynn Wood, who Rittenhouse as a defender of freedom and a patriot. who was exercising his right to bear arms. Pierce tweeted a video of Rittenhouse talking on the phone from an Illinois prison, where he thanks supporters. A video released by a group linked to his legal team said Rittenhouse was being “sacrificed by politicians”, whose “end game” was to withhold “the constitutional right of all citizens to protect our communities”.
Rivers of money flowed into a legal defense fund—more than enough for Rittenhouse to post his $2 million bail—but Wood dropped the case and became active in suppressing the false claim that Donald Trump won the presidential election. Was. Pierce dropped the criminal case in December after prosecutors said he should not be allowed to raise funds for Rittenhouse, but he remained on the civil side of things until Rittenhouse said they fired him in February.
On Friday, Richards recounted his first meeting with Rittenhouse: “I told him when I first met him, if he was looking for someone to go on a crusade, I was not his lawyer.”
Wood told the AP on Saturday that he is not a criminal attorney and has not been involved in the civil side of things since he was asked to withdraw. He said the foundation he heads, the Fightback Foundation, raised funds for Rittenhouse’s bail and publicly stated that the case was a Second Amendment issue.
“I wasn’t a lawyer pushing for a reason,” Wood said. “Fightback has a mission that includes arms and the right to self-defense.”
Richards – gravelly-voiced, hoarse and often scattered back in his chair during the proceedings – seemed to be the lead counsel in the months leading up to the trial. After the verdict, he called Chirafisi his co-counselor – “not another chair” – and called him his “best friend”.
They got ready and reached the court. Richards used several videos during his opening statement – over the objection of prosecutors who did not seize the opportunity.
He argued vehemently for wrongful prosecution when he felt prosecutors were acting in bad faith, and appeared to outdo prosecutors in dismissing a gun charge.
And he calculated carefully with perhaps his biggest decision: whether Rittenhouse should take the stand, risking a potentially harmful cross-examination. Richards said he tested his case against a pair of fake jurors and found it “much better” with Rittenhouse’s testimony.
“It was not a close call,” he said.
Richards is a courtroom veteran and was a prosecutor in Racine and Kenosha Counties in the late 1980s before opening his own firm in 1990 that specializes in criminal defense. Chirafisi is also a former prosecutor and has been practicing law for over 20 years. His law firm is in Madison.
Lawyers repeatedly pushed back against prosecutors’ notion that Rittenhouse was anarchically an outsider to Kenosha, noting that although he lived in nearby Antioch, Illinois, his father lived in Kenosha and Rittenhouse lived in Kenosha County. I worked as a lifeguard. Richards shared his grief at the violence in Kenosha from his home in Racine, after a white police officer shot and killed a black man, Jacob Blake.
While prosecutors tried to show that Rittenhouse acted as a vigilante who overreacted, he and his lawyers argued that he was defending himself. Richards told the jury, “As a jury member you will see it from the point of view of a 17-year-old as they were present.”
When Rittenhouse was on the stand, they were quick to object to the prosecutor’s cross-examination, calling it bad.
In a tumultuous moment of the trial, after defense objected to prosecutor Thomas Binger’s line of questioning, Chirafisi raised the possibility that Binger was trying to incite a wrongdoing because the state was performing poorly.
“I don’t know if it’s my role to sit here and say who’s winning,” Chirafisi told the judge. “I don’t think that’s necessarily what I should do. But I think the court has to draw some conclusions as it pertains to bad faith on the part of the prosecution.”
Richards and Chirafisi split duties at trial, with Richards making the opening statement and closing argument, and Chirafisi handling the witnesses’ testimony. Richards said the two argued over who would question Gage Grosskretz, the man with a gun in his hand when Rittenhouse shot and wounded him.
Richards said Chirafisi won – and did a better job than he would have. Chirafisi asks Grosskretz to admit that he had pointed his gun at Rittenhouse.
“It wasn’t until you raised your gun at him, stepped on him… that he fired, right?” Chirafisi asked.
“Right,” replied Grosskretz. Under follow-up questioning from the prosecutor, Grosskretz stated that he never intended to point his weapon at Rittenhouse.
Strang, who helped represent Steven Avery in the case documented by the Netflix “Making a Murderer” series, described Chirafisi as quick-witted and always engaged in the courtroom. Strang said Richards is slow to anger, but “won’t let go” if he feels something is unfair.
This was evident during Richards’ closing argument when, in his loud voice, he looked across the prosecutors’ table and repeatedly accused Binger of lying. There was a stir among the jury members. Richards reiterated his distaste for the way prosecutors presented their case on Friday.
He also pleaded guilty to spreading “not the true story” of the events in Kenosha on social media – “something that we had to work to overcome in court.”
“I knew this matter was big,” Richards told reporters. “I never knew it was going to be this big.”
This story has been corrected to remove references to the Carlson documentary that aired Monday; It is to be aired in December.
Forliti reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press writer Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin contributed to this report.
Get full coverage of AP’s Rittenhouse trial: https://apnews.com/hub/kyle-rittenhouse