The judge in Kyle Rittenhouse’s homicide trial has ordered the jury to“disregard” the opinions of President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump in reaching their verdict.
Judge Bruce Schroeder instructed jurors that they must “disregard the claims or opinions of any other person or news media or social networking site” before he dismissed them on Monday evening.
“You will pay no heed to the opinions of anyone, even the president of the United States, or the president before him,” he said.
The jury began deliberations on Tuesday morning after Mr Rittenhouse randomly drew the names of six prospective jurors from the 18 seated to be dismissed.
The judge’s comments came after Mr Biden sparked controversy over his past comments where he appeared to suggest Mr Rittenhouse was a “white supremacist”.
In September 2020, as the race for the White House heated up, Mr Biden posted a video on social media which included a clip of Mr Rittenhouse carrying the AR-15 he used to shoot dead two men and wound a third during a night of unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, one month earlier.
“There’s no other way to put it: the President of the United States refused to disavow white supremacists on the debate stage last night,” Mr Biden tweeted alongside the video.
He was referring to Mr Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists during a presidential debate, where he told the right-wing group the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by”.
Last week, Mr Rittenhouse’s mother accused Mr Biden of defaming her son and said she was “in shock” and was “angry” at his social media post.
“He is not a white supremacist. He is not a racist,” Wendy Rittenhouse said of her son in an interview with Fox News.
“I was in shock. I was angry. President Biden don’t know my son, whatsoever,” she said, adding that she felt Mr Biden “did that for the votes”.
Meanwhile, Mr Trump previously made several comments in support of Mr Rittenhouse and internal documents have revealed his administration was told to be sympathetic toward the shooter.
In the days after the shootings and after Mr Rittenhouse was slapped with multiple charges, the then-president pushed the notion that the teenager had been acting in self-defence.
“You saw the same tape as I saw, and he was trying to get away from them,” Mr Trump said at a White House press briefing on 31 August 2020.
“I guess it looks like and he fell and then they very violently attacked him and it was something we’re looking at right now and it’s under investigation.
“I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would have been killed. But it’s under investigation,” he added of the teenager, whose social media revealed he was an avid supporter of Mr Trump.
During jury selection earlier this month, Judge Schroeder made similar comments about Mr Rittenhouse’s case being used by both candidates in the 2020 White House race.
He repeatedly told prospective jurors “this is not a political trial” and accused the presidential candidates of mentioning the case “very, very prudently”.
“It was mentioned by both political campaigns and the presidential campaign last year, in some instances very, very imprudently,” he said.
He added: “I don’t want it to get sidetracked into other issues.”
Mr Rittenhouse, a white 18-year-old, was just 17 when he traveled from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha, Wisconsin, armed with an AR-15 during racial justice protests over the police shooting of Black man Jacob Blake on 25 August 2020.
That night, the teenager shot and killed two men - Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26 - and wounded a third man, 27-year-old Gaige Grosskreutz.
He is charged as an adult with two counts of first-degree homicide, one count of attempted homicide and recklessly endangering the safety of two other victims.
A misdemeanour charge of possessing a weapon while under the age of 18 was dropped on Monday after the judge granted a defence motion to dismiss to dismiss it.
If convicted, Mr Rittenhouse could face life in prison.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in