Shooter’s de­fense por­trays him as ‘Amer­i­can pa­triot’

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - NEWS - By Bernard Con­don

Lawyers for Kyle Rit­ten­house

say that he wasn’t just a scared teenager act­ing in self-de­fense when he shot to death two Kenosha,

Wis., pro­test­ers. He was a coura­geous de­fender of lib­erty, a pa­triot ex­er­cis­ing his right to bear arms amid ri­ot­ing in the streets.

“A 17-year-old cit­i­zen is be­ing sac­ri­ficed by politi­cians, but it’s not Kyle Rit­ten­house they are af­ter. Their end game is to strip away the con­sti­tu­tional right of all cit­i­zens to de­fend our com­mu­ni­ties,” says the voice-over at the end of a video re­leased this week by a group tied to Rit­ten­house’s le­gal team.

“Kyle Rit­ten­house will go down in Amer­i­can his­tory along­side that brave un­known pa­triot ... who fired ‘The Shot Heard Round the World,”’ lead at­tor­ney John Pierce wrote this month in a tweet he later deleted. “A Se­condAmer­i­canRevo­lu­tion against Tyranny has be­gun.”

But such rhetoric that has helped raise nearly $2 mil­lion for Rit­ten­house’s de­fense may not work with the jury con­sid­er­ing charges that could put the teen in prison for life. Le­gal ex­perts say there could be big risks in turn­ing a fairly straight­for­ward self­de­fense case into a fight for free­dom that mir­rors the law-and-or­der re­elec­tion theme Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has struck amid the­wave of protests over racial in­jus­tice.

“They’re play­ing to his most neg­a­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics and stereo­types, what his crit­ics want to per­ceive him as: a crazy mili­tia mem­ber out to cause harm and start a revo­lu­tion,” said Robert Barnes, a prom­i­nent Los Angeles de­fense at­tor­ney.

it­ten­house’s high-pro­file de­fense and fund-rais­ing teams, led by Los Angeles-based Pierce and At­lanta at­tor­ney Lin Wood, re­spec­tively, re­fused to speak to The As­so­ci­ated Press about their strat­egy ahead of the teen’s next court on the sched­ule Thurs­day for the next day, a hear­ing in Illi­nois on whether to re­turn

him to Wis­con­sin.

In a TV ap­pear­ance and a bl­iz­zard of so­cial me­dia posts, they dou­bled down on the hero theme, de­scrib­ingKenosha as a “war zone” and the young shooter as an “Amer­i­can pa­triot” and a “shin­ing sym­bol of the Amer­i­can fight­ing spirit.”

“This is the sa­cred ground in Kenosha where a 17-year old child be­came a Min­ute­man and said ‘Not on My Watch,’” Pierce tweeted above a photo of the city where ri­ot­ers burned and looted just days be­fore.

Eric Creiz­man, a for­mer part­ner at Pierce’s firm, said the heated lan­guage in the tweets is not sur­pris­ing be­cause of his for­mer boss’s ten­dency to­ward hy­per­bole, though he won­ders if it will back­fire.

“The ques­tion re­ally should fo­cus on whether this guy is guilty of what they’re charg­ing him with,” he said, “in­stead of mak­ing it into a po­lit­i­cal is­sue.”

One po­lit­i­cally charged tac­tic crit­ics have at­tacked as a long­shot is Pierce’s prom­ise to fight a charge of un­der­age firearm­pos­ses­sion,

a mis­de­meanor, by ar­gu­ing U.S. law al­lows for an “un­or­ga­nized mili­tia.” Rit­ten­house had a semi-au­to­matic ri­fle.

Some ex­perts have even ques­tioned whether the teenager’s team of four at­tor­neys will feel pres­sure to hold back from mak­ing a plea bar­gain out of fear of dis­rupt­ing the pa­tri­otic nar­ra­tive, and dis­ap­point­ing donors.

There is a temp­ta­tion to shape court ar­gu­ments to “keep the money flow­ing while the bat­tle is on­go­ing,” said Richard Cayo, a Mil­wau­kee at­tor­ney who helps other lawyers in ethics cases. “It puts lawyers at risk of try­ing to serve two mas­ters.”

Pierce and Wood have ties to Trump’s or­bit and his brand of GOP pol­i­tics, though it is not clear if that played any role in their in­volve­ment in Rit­ten­house’s case and how it is be­ing han­dled. Trump has made state­ments ap­pear­ing to sup­port Rit­ten­house’s claim of self-de­fense, say­ing the young­man “prob­a­bly­would have been killed.”

ADAM RO­GAN — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Kyle Rit­ten­house car­ries a weapon as he walks Aug. 25 in Kenosha, Wis., dur­ing the night of un­rest fol­low­ing the week­end po­lice shoot­ing of Jacob Blake.

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