(AP) — Soon after a Wisconsin jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges against him, defense attorney Mark Richards took a swipe at his predecessors, telling reporters that their tactics — leaning into Rittenhouse's portrayal as a rallying point for the right to carry weapons and defend oneself — were not his.
"I was hired by the two first lawyers. I'm not going to use their names," Richards said Friday. "They wanted to use Kyle for a cause and something that I think was inappropriate — and I don't represent causes. I represent clients."
The angry rhetoric surrounding Rittenhouse's case didn't subside with the change in attorneys. But Richards, beaming as he talked to reporters outside his Racine law office after the acquittal, said that to him, the only thing that mattered was "whether he was found not guilty or not."
Along with co-counsel Corey Chirafisi, he spent the months leading up to the case in virtual silence — "I don't do interviews," he said brusquely to one emailed request in December — and sought at trial to minimize the polarizing questions about Second Amendment rights.
It was a strategy that sometimes conflicted with other forces surrounding Rittenhouse. Fox News had a camera crew embedded with Rittenhouse at certain points, including before and after the verdict, gathering material for a documentary marketed as a "Tucker Carlson Original." Carlson tweeted a promo for the documentary to air in December, along with teasing an exclusive interview with Rittenhouse to air Monday night.
The crew sometimes sat in on defense meetings. Richards told The Associated Press that he opposed it as inappropriate and said he tossed the crew out several times. He said it was arranged by those raising money for Rittenhouse.
"It was not approved by me, but I'm not always in control," he said. "I think it detracted from what we were trying to do, and that was obviously to get Kyle found not guilty."
Regardless of what was happening behind the scenes, the strategy from Richards and Chirafisi in court was clear: get the jury to regard Rittenhouse as a scared teenager who shot to save his life.
They repeatedly focused on the two minutes, 55 seconds in which the shootings unfolded — the critical moments in which Rittenhouse, then 17, said he felt a threat and pulled the trigger.
"These guys have a client who is a human being … that's what they're rightly focused on," said Dean Strang, a defense attorney and professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Strang, who spoke to the AP before Friday's verdict and who wasn't connected to the case, said Richards and Chirafisi see Rittenhouse "as an 18-year-old kid who landed in a whole lot of trouble, more than he could handle."
In the days after the shootings, Rittenhouse — who brought an AR-style rifle to a protest, saying he was protecting a stranger's property — was initially represented by attorneys John Pierce and Lin Wood, who painted Rittenhouse as a defender of liberty and a patriot who was exercising his right to bear arms. Pierce tweeted a video of Rittenhouse speaking by phone from a jail in Illinois, where he's from, thanking supporters. A video released by a group tied to his legal team said Rittenhouse was being "sacrificed by politicians" whose "end game" was to stop the "constitutional right of all citizens to defend our communities."
Rivers of money flowed to a legal defense fund — more than enough for Rittenhouse to post his $2 million bail — but Wood left the case and became active in pressing the false claim that Donald Trump had won the presidential election. Pierce left the criminal case in December after prosecutors said he shouldn't be allowed to raise money for Rittenhouse, but he stayed on the civil side of things until Rittenhouse said he fired him in February.