Soon after Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges against him by a Wisconsin jury, defense attorney Mark Richards slammed his predecessors. He said their tactics—leaning into Rittenhouse’s portrayal as a rallying point for the right to bear arms and defend oneself—were not his.
Richards was determined to stay away from the most divisive aspects of the case. Richards recounted his first meeting with Rittenhouse: “I told him when I first met him if he’s looking for somebody to go off on a crusade, I wasn’t his lawyer.”
Rittenhouse was initially represented by attorneys John Pierce and Lin Wood, who painted Rittenhouse as a defender of liberty and a patriot exercising his right to bear arms in the days following the shootings. He brought an AR-style rifle to a protest, claiming he was protecting a stranger’s property.
Richards is a seasoned prosecutor who served as a prosecutor in Racine and Kenosha counties in the late 1980s before founding his own criminal defense company in 1990. Co-counsel Corey Chirafisi is also a former prosecutor with over 20 years of experience in the legal field. His legal firm is located in Madison.
Before the trial, Richards and Chirafisi said very little about the case and aimed to focus jurors on the crucial three minutes of the shootings to establish self-defense.
“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.”
He and co-counsel Corey Chirafisi spent months leading up to the trial in near silence—”I don’t do interviews,” he remarked brusquely in response to one emailed request in December. The two kept the controversial concerns regarding Second Amendment rights to a minimum throughout the trial.
Richards and Chirafisi see Rittenhouse “as an 18-year-old kid who fell in a whole lot of problems, more than he could handle.”
Richards and Chirafisi’s goal in court was simple: convince the jury that Rittenhouse was a scared youngster who shot to save his life. So they constantly emphasized the two minutes and 55 seconds that the shootings took place—the crucial times when Rittenhouse, then 17, claimed he felt threatened and pulled the trigger.
Dean Strang, a defense attorney and professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, said, “These men have a client who is a human being … that’s what they’re rightfully focused on.”
In the months leading up to the trial, Richards—gravel-voiced, gruff, and frequently sprawled back in his chair throughout the proceedings—appeared to be the lead attorney. Following the verdicts, he referred to Chirafisi as his “best friend” and referred to him as his co-counsel—”not a second chair.”
They were well-prepared when they went to court. Richards used many videos throughout his opening statement, even though prosecutors did not take advantage of the occasion.
When they believed prosecutors were operating in bad faith, they argued forcefully for a mistrial, and they appeared to outmaneuver prosecutors in getting a gun charge removed.
And they carefully considered one of their most important decisions: whether Rittenhouse should take the stand, risking a potentially damaging cross-examination, reported AP news.
According to Richards, they put their case to the test in front of two mock juries and determined “substantially better” with Rittenhouse testifying.
“It wasn’t a close call,” he said.