A judge in the United States has ordered the extradition of a 17-year-old accused in the fatal shooting of two demonstrators in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The ruling on Friday in the US state of Illinois came after Kyle Rittenhouse’s defence lawyers sought to persuade Judge Paul Novak to block the teenager’s transfer to Wisconsin to face homicide charges.
Rittenhouse’s case has become a flashpoint for many in the US, where mass protests demanding racial justice and an end to police violence against Black people have taken place for months.
Some conservatives see him as a patriot who was exercising his right to bear arms during a time of unrest, while others portray him as a “domestic terrorist” who incited protesters by showing up at a demonstration wielding a rifle.
Rittenhouse’s lawyer John Pierce had argued the charges are politically motivated and that extraditing Rittenhouse would violate his constitutional rights. “This Illinois child must go free,” he told the judge on Friday.
Prosecutors have said those arguments are irrelevant on the question of extradition, however, and that it is the role of a Wisconsin judge, not one in Illinois, to decide whether there are sufficient grounds for charges.
“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.
— Shane B. Murphy (@shanermurph) October 30, 2020
The fatal shootings took place during an anti-racism protest in Kenosha on August 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, paralysing him from the waist down.
Video of the police shooting sparked outrage and helped spur on the protests.
According to prosecutors and court documents, Rittenhouse shot and 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 a smartphone 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 hit him with a skateboard and tried to take his rifle. Rittenhouse opened fire, killing Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, who was holding a handgun.
Rittenhouse sat at a defence table Friday wearing a dress shirt and tie, his mask across his face. 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!”
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 Governor JB 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 defence.
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 misdemeanour charge of underage firearm possession. His lawyers have argued he was acting in self-defense.
A day after the shooting, Rittenhouse surrendered to police in his Illinois hometown of Antioch, about 16km (10 miles) southwest of Kenosha.
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