Special: Kyle Rittenhouse Case & the Trial Over Ahmaud Arbery’s Death

Nov. 12, 2021 AT 10:22 p.m. EST

The panel goes in-depth into the dramatic developments of the Kyle Rittenhouse homicide trial and the three White men standing on trial for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

Get Washington Week in your inbox


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

- Good evening and welcome to the "Washington Week Extra" I'm Yamiche Alcindor. This week in Kenosha Wisconsin there were dramatic developments in the Kyle Rittenhouse homicide trial. Last summer Rittenhouse killed two people and wounded another during protests related to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man by a white police officer. Rittenhouse now 18 is charged with five felonies. On Wednesday Rittenhouse took the stand. He says he acted in self-defense. When he was asked to describe the moments before he shot the three men Rittenhouse broke down into tears.

- There were. There were three people right there.

- [Man] Take a deep breath Kyle.

- In cross examination the prosecutor focused on the inconsistencies in Rittenhouse's testimony.

- [Thomas] But you told the crowd he had a gun didn't you?

- That's what I said.

- [Thomas] And that wasn't true, mister Rosenbaum never had a gun right?

- He didn't have a gun.

- Meanwhile in Brunswick Georgia three white men are standing trial for the killing of a Ahmaud Arbery, a black man. Craig and Travis McMichael are accused of chasing Arbery before their neighbor William Brody Brian gunned him down. Arbery a former high school football player had been jogging in the area. This week prosecutors laid out their case.

- [Linda] Did Gregory McMichael ever indicate to you at that time that he thought Ahmaud Arbery, the guy, had committed a crime that day?

- No ma'am.

- [Linda] Did he ever tell you while you're talking to him that he was attempting to make a citizens arrest?

- No ma'am.

- Video of Arbery's death sparked outrage across the country. The case prompted Georgia to pass its first hate crime laws and repeal a civil war era citizens arrest law which is key to the suspects defense. Here is Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney working with the family of Ahmaud Arbery.

- This is a historical case a landmark case that will be remembered a lot like the Emmett Till case, like the Trayvon Martin case, like the George Floyd case right here in Brunswick Georgia.

- But questions remain about why it took law enforcement months to arrest the suspects. And in both high profile trials civil rights activists are wondering why the jury's in the cases ended up being mostly white with the exception of a soul person of color. Joining me tonight to discuss these cases, Charlie De mar reporter for CBS News Chicago, Philip Jackson social justice reporter for Huff Post, and joining me at he table Rachel Scott, congressional correspondent for ABC News. Thank you all of you for being here. Charlie I wanna start with you, you've been in the courthouse in the Rittenhouse case. You've heard from both sides of the prosecution and the defense. What are the main points that each side is making? And I wonder if how those arguments have been landing in court?

- Good evening. Well one of the unique things about this case is that it was pretty much all on video, so that was one of the things that the defense even laid out in the beginning that this really wasn't a case of who done it. You know we know who did it, Kyle Rittenhouse when he took the stand himself you know testified to shooting three people and killing two of them. And his own lawyers walked him through the case and you know very slowly presented evidence piece by piece with video showing why he shot. And he really took the jury through Kyle rather, took the jury through you know each instance, what was going through his head. And this really was the first time you know that we did hear from Kyle in his own words what he was thinking. And obviously the mantra or the refrain that kept coming up was that he feared for his life. In each instance his defense team put up pieces of video that matched what Kyle was saying that you know sort of in their mind was backing up his claims of self-defense. On the other side the prosecution is making it out or trying to have the jury see that Kyle was there to cause trouble, that the only reason he was in Kenosha Wisconsin that night was to create issues. That he went there with an AR-15 not to protect property or as a medic as he you know testified that he was there for but it was to cause issues. And that with him carrying an AR-15 and in some cases pointing at people he put other people's lives at risk, and other people in danger not the other way around. So that's really what both sides tried hammering home this week.

- And the governor there in Wisconsin has also mobilized some 500 national guards troops. Talk a bit about the atmosphere in Wisconsin. Now those national guards troops are supposed to be on standby for next week during closing arguments, possibly when the jury will be deliberating. Talk a bit about sort of how things are going there.

- So so far outside you've seen people, I'd say supporters for both sides if you will, people who are there for Kyle Rittenhouse and people who wanna see Kyle Rittenhouse get convicted in this case. We've also seen Justin Blake the uncle of Jacob Blake who really was the catalyst of all this. He was you know shot by a Kenosha police officer seven times at close range, he's paralyzed. But it has been calm. There have been you know small gatherings, but nothing really that we you know close to what we saw in the summer of 2020. The governor stated that he deployed about 500 national guards members. And it really is as a precaution so that if things do escalate there there is a response in place. Because I know a number of people from you know reporting on people, businesses, people who live in Kenosha, the police really were outnumbered, they weren't able to respond when things did go south there. The fire department they weren't able to respond to fires. So this really is I think also a way of assuring the public that there is a plan in place and it's not just gonna be a reaction if things do escalate once the verdict comes next week.

- Yeah just as a precaution you say. I also wanna talk about on Wednesday circuit court judge Bruce Schroeder sent the jury out of the courtroom and lectured the prosecution for questioning Rittenhouse about an incident the judge chose not to admit as evidence.

- I thought this is my good faith explanation to you and if you wanna yell at me you can. My good faith feeling this morning after watching that testimony was you had left the door open a little bit, now we had something new and I was going to probe it.

- I don't believe you. When you say that you were acting in good faith I don't believe that okay?

- Now this judge is currently the longest serving circuit court judge in Wisconsin. Charlie I wanna, one more question to you, what's the sense that the judge may be playing for the public because of course he's an elected official. There were voters that saw this but of course not the jury, but also I'm sure maybe some experts are also pointing out that maybe this is the way that some judges act normally. What's your sense of things?

- Well the clip you showed right there was one of at least two instances where Judge Schroeder you know told the jury to leave and really reprimanded District Attorney, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger there. That time it was for going into a line of questioning that they had already ruled before the trial started that he couldn't get into. And legal experts that I spoke with you know talked about that strategy, that and the defense even brought this up in the case when the jury wasn't in the courtroom that the prosecution may be seeing that the case isn't going in their favor, in their direction. That this may have been a strategy to you know a kamikaze mission or try and get a redo to have the judge call a mistrial in this case. Again there has not been a mistrial declared but that's definitely one strategy that legal experts have pointed to. 'Cause you heard the judge saying "I don't believe you "that this was an honest mistake." And then the second time being he approach or he brought up when he was questioning Kyle Rittenhouse on the stand his right to plead the fifth to not you know speak after being charged. And that was the first time where the judge really laid into Assistant District Attorney Binger.

- Yeah I mean these were definitely fireworks. Rachel when you think about just sort of all of us even in DC watching this case, former President Trump has tweeted sort of his support for Kyle Rittenhouse or maybe even rather expressed his support for Kyle Rittenhouse. I wonder what you just make of the politicization of this case, how it's being seen, no matter the outcome it's gonna be a big case that I think a lot of people in this country are gonna be watching.

- Yeah and the country is watching these two trials play out side-by-side and two trials that significantly relied on video, watching these play out. I think the former president is gonna have a very different response than you know the current president. But I think a lot of this will central back to what policies are in place and what the Biden Administration is also pushing forward. And I think with both of these cases you have some people who would say there needs to be more when it comes to gun control in this country, and there needs to be more when it comes to criminal justice reform and police reform in this country as well. And I think those two will harken back especially with questions for the Biden Administration.

- Yeah. A lot of questions. And Phillip I wanna come to you because you're focusing on the trial of these men who have killed who were accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery who did shoot him. I'm wondering can you talk a little bit about sort of what you're hearing in court, what you're hearing, I should say while you're watching this trial, and sort of what the significance of this case is especially as it plays out during the Rittenhouse trial?

- Right well the early stages of this case you know we're in the first week of testimony. And but what we're seeing the prosecutors are unloading a lot of evidence right now, they're speaking with a lot of police officers. And what we're seeing is is that none of the neighbors, none of the cops have reported anything stolen from this construction site that the McMichael's, Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael were so concerned about. And what William Brian, which the prosecutor Linda Dunikoski described as driveway decisions, decided to involve himself with. And I think what sticks out particularly in this Ahmaud Arbery case which is fairly obvious, especially coming from 2020, the year long protests following George Floyd and Breonna Taylor is that racist started through all out this case. You know we're talking about a town, a rural town in Georgia, southern town. We're talking about a predominantly white jury with one black juror. And you know it's kind of obvious, it's hard to ignore what's going on in this case. And kind of the things that are perpetuating from it. We had an attorney for example yesterday, Kevin Golf for example, he spoke about the presence of black pastors and what influence or intimidation that might have on the jury. I don't think that's something that he would've brought up if race wasn't threaded throughout this case. And I think going forward we're gonna see more evidence point out to speak to the actual intent that a lot of these guys had when they pursued Arbery for a chase during minutes that lasted five minutes.

- Well you bring up some really good points Phillip especially when you think I was gonna ask you two things, you've answered them, but I wanna maybe if you could talk a bit more about them. The first is the fact that this is a jury that's predominantly white. The second is that the attorney and just to sort of recap for people, one of the attorneys for one of the men charged he saw Al Sharptton sitting in the courtroom and he said quote, "I don't wanna see any more black pastors "in the courtroom." This is I think a shocking statement for anybody to hear. I'm wondering, just talk a little bit about what's going on down there since you're covering this case.

- Yeah I mean I think it's kind of what a lot of people who've been kind of knowledge about race relations in this country for such a long time aren't surprised about. In this case with Ahmaud Arbery we have a 25 year old black man going jogging through a neighborhood, a most likely a predominantly white neighborhood, and you have two white men Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael pursued him without any real knowledge about what he was doing in there. And I think one key thing to point out here is that Arbery wasn't the only person at the construction site. You know there were white people who were there, there were young white kids who were there, they were never pursued, it was all seen on the surveillance tape. There was a deposition that was shown in the jury yesterday. The property owner he talked about this, he talked about this issue, he talked about how he made the emergency 911 calls. But the only person who was pursued from this construction site just happened to be Arbery. I mean I don't know if we can find this as a coincidence at all.

- And where do you think this case is going? You know you're watching it, I wonder sort of what might we see next?

- Right I mean starting off Friday with the opening statements from last week, State Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski what she said was Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William Brian they pursued Arbery off assumption. While that may or may not be true you know there some legal experts have criticized that opening approach instead of nailing down the point that these three men killed a black man, 25 years old in Georgia without any real reason any real criminal evidence, any real evidence that anything was stolen. And I think based off of what the prosecution continues to roll out since we're still fairly early in this case is gonna really depend on what the results are gonna be.

- Yeah. Yeah I mean Rachel I still remember when I first saw that video of Ahmaud Arbery being shot it's a shocking video, it's something that sticks with you. It also was a video that sparked President Biden talking about change, talking about sort of changing the systems that we all live with. But where has that gone? Police reform installed in congress, I just wonder what your take is on sort of the federal level what could happen?

- Yeah and it's pretty spectacular when we talk about the role that video has played in a lot of the public perception around this right. Watching someone jogging and then end up a black man who ended up being shot and killed. We know that racism is not new by any sense of the word, but in the sense that this has been filmed and that did spark a lot of public outcry including new calls for change. Much of it has been stalled. We have seen police reform fizzle, we've seen gun control fizzle, criminal justice has sort of been brought to a stand still when it comes to reform. There has been some movement over in the house when it comes to mandatory minimum sentences. But overall getting through all of congress and landing on the presidents desk we just haven't seen it. And this has lead to a lot of civil rights groups asking the president to do more. And we heard from the president himself, who've said one of his biggest regrets by focusing on this much larger infrastructure package is that some of these other things that he promised on the campaign trail have possibly just slipped back a little bit more. But certainly these two trials, and especially the Ahmaud Arbery case puts a spotlight right back on it.

- Yeah it definitely puts a spotlight back on it. We're definitely gonna keep covering it here at "Washington Week" so stick with us. That's it for this edition of "The Washington Week Extra". Thank you so much to Charlie, to Phillip, to Rachel for joining us. And you can listen wherever you get your podcasts or watch on "The Washington Week" website while you're online. Sign up for "The Washington Week" newsletter where you'll get an advanced look at our show each week. I'm Yamiche Alcindor, thank you for joining us.


Support our journalism

Washington Week Logo

© 1996 - 2024 WETA. All Rights Reserved.

PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization

Support our journalism


Contact: Kathy Connolly,

Vice President Major and Planned Giving

kconnolly@weta.org or 703-998-2064