As jurors in Kyle Rittenhouse's murder trial settled into their courtroom seats, Judge Bruce Schroeder welcomed them and noted the Veterans Day holiday.
The longtime judge then asked if any of the jurors or others in the courtroom had served. Only one person indicated he had: The man about to testify in support of Rittenhouse's defense.
“What branch?” Schroeder asked use-of-force expert John Black.
“Army, sir," Black said.
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“I think we give a round of applause to the people who've served our country,” Schroeder said, leading the room including jurors in clapping.
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Black then took the stand, testifying that less than three seconds elapsed between the time a protester fired a shot in the air and Rittenhouse opened fire with his rifle.
For some trial observers, Schroeder's opening was a clear mistake that could have swayed jurors' opinion of a defense witness at the expense of prosecutors' already shaky case.
But other watchers shrugged it off, suggesting prosecutors were best served letting the moment pass without objection.
Steven Wright, a professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Law, characterized the moment as a mistake. Schroeder making Black's military service clear to the jury risked making him more credible in their eyes, Wright said.
But the issue is unlikely to be scrutinized, whatever the outcome of this trial.
If jurors find Rittenhouse not guilty, there's likely no appeal. If they find him guilty, Schroeder's mistake could only be seen as an aid to Rittenhouse rather than a point of argument on appeal, Wright said.
Rittenhouse's attorney also asked Black questions about his professional background during his testimony, and Black briefly discussed his military service.
Schroeder, who wore a tie Thursday emblazoned with American flags, has singled out veterans before. He called for a round of applause for veterans last week during jury selection, when he compared the solemnity of jury duty to the seriousness of being drafted. He also thanked the Marines during Wednesday's court session, and when an officer in the courtroom said he was a Marine, Schroeder called for more applause.
High public interest in Rittenhouse case has meant more scrutiny for Schroeder, a colorful judge who killed time before jury selection by testing jurors' trivia knowledge, shouted at the prosecutor this week over a line of questioning and often pokes fun at himself on the bench.
He raised more eyebrows at the lunch break Thursday with an offhand remark as he was setting a time for court to resume, when he said: “Let’s hope for 1 o’clock, I don’t know, the uh, hope the Asian food isn’t coming, it isn’t on one of those boats in Long Beach Harbor.”
Some social media users seized on the remark, an apparent reference to a cargo ship backlog seen on the West Coast, as questionable at best and racist at worst.
Schroeder didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Thursday afternoon.