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Conservative writer assesses Kenosha self-defense claim

This article consists of more or less politically neutral commentary.

It seems undisputed that Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, a high school dropout from Antioch, Illinois, who steeped himself in cop culture, shot 3 people, killing 2 and wounding 1, during disturbances in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on August 25, 2020. He’s been charged with assorted crimes, including first-degree murder, and his attorneys have signaled he will claim self-defense as to the latter.

If you do an internet search you’ll come up with a million opinions, mostly by clueless people who say, “Sure it was self defense,” some adding, “He was being chased by a violent mob.” (A variation is “armed mob,” although there’s no evidence those killed were armed.) You can find equally self-assured opinions on the other side, too, if you look for them; although not as many, and not as loud.

How do you separate the wheat from the chaff?

Well, try to find a calm voice, if there are any around. Someone who, instead of cherry-picking facts, looks at all the available facts, quotes applicable law, then tries to put the facts and law together and come up with a reasoned conclusion. Because that’s how Rittenhouse’s guilt or innocence will be determined in a court trial, if there is one (i.e., the charges aren’t dropped and there’s no plea bargain).

Robert VerBruggen, a conservative writer,* takes a stab at it in the National Review, a respectable conservative opinion magazine, and appears to satisfy most of the criteria above, so his analysis is what I consider the best conservative commentary I’ve seen on the topic so far. In other words, he’s not a screeching parrot like the rest. His is not a proper legal analysis; VerBruggen, isn’t a lawyer. He has a journalism degree from Northwestern University, a reputable school, and work experience as a writer and editor for various conservative publications.

So what does he think of Rittenhouse’s self-defense chances? He concludes: Not out of the question. Maybe. Depends on a number of things we don’t know or aren’t sure of right now. Read his analysis here.

And what do I think of what he thinks? Well, off the top of my law school-indoctrinated mind, I don’t see any big gaping holes in his logic, but legal outcomes are highly fact-dependent, and as he pointed out, we don’t know all the facts.

So for now I would conclude: Maybe. Depends on the rest of the facts. Also whether Rittenhouse’s highly skilled celebrity lawyer makes dog food out of the prosecutor. Legal and courtroom skills vary, and all else (i.e. the facts and law) being equal, sometimes can determine verdicts. That’s why high-profile murder defendants tend to have celebrity lawyers with high-powered legal skills.

Photo: Robert VerBruggen. Looks like me when I was a young journalist, even has an identical tie. Owns a better suit than I did before becoming a lawyer, though. Small-city newspapers don’t pay as well as conservative national opinion media.

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