Teenager charged in Wisconsin protest shootings pleads not guilty on all counts

KENOSHA, WISCONSIN (REUTERS) – Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager charged with fatally shooting two men and wounding a third at a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August, pleaded not guilty to all counts in an appearance by video in Kenosha County Circuit Court on Tuesday (Jan 5).

Rittenhouse, 18, was charged with first-degree reckless homicide and five other criminal counts related to the shootings, which occurred on Aug 25 at a demonstration that followed the fatal shooting of a black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer days earlier.

Rittenhouse appeared at the brief virtual arraignment in an office seated next to his lawyer, Mark Richards, wearing a blue button down shirt, a tie and a black mask because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Jury selection for Rittenhouse’s trial in Kenosha is scheduled to begin on March 29.

The teenager was freed in November after his attorneys posted his US$2 million (S$2.6 million) bond.

The source of the money was unclear, but his attorneys had led a drive to raise the funds from donations.

Rittenhouse’s lawyers have said Rittenhouse acted in self defence when he opened fire with a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 rifle at the protest.

The police shooting of Blake on Aug 23, captured on cellphone video, drew a mix of civil rights demonstrators, anarchists and right-wing militias to the streets of Kenosha, a city of 100,000 people about 65km south of Milwaukee.

Officer Rusten Sheskey shot at Blake’s back seven times from close range as Blake opened the door of his car, striking him four times and paralysing him from the waist down.

Officials said there was a knife inside Blake’s car.

Blake’s lawyer, Ben Crump, disputed that there was a knife in the car and said Blake was attempting to break up a fight between two women when he was shot in front of three of his sons, aged three, five and eight.

Prosecutors are expected to decide whether to charge Sheskey this week.

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