Manchester barber retrial: Opening arguments start

Image copyright NBC

Opening arguments have started at the retrial of a New Hampshire barber accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend.

Prosecutors say Kyle Rittenhouse killed Jessica Bennett in 2013 with the help of her former roommate, Michael Mina.

Mr Rittenhouse’s lawyers say the friends struck a deal not to testify. They want the jury to be told that.

The retrial of Mr Rittenhouse, who was acquitted by a jury last year, is taking place in Nashua, New Hampshire.

It is the second time the case is making its way through the courts.

Image copyright NBC Image caption Murder victim Jessica Bennett’s mother Dawn Bennett has missed all the court hearings

Rittenhouse, 28, spent five years behind bars for the murder, but in May, he was acquitted by a jury at the High County Superior Court in Salem, New Hampshire.

In August he tried to stop his legal team from calling his childhood friend to the stand and bailiffs removed the interpreter from the court.

The defendant has also complained that the judge is being too stringent in his conduct and that he is being mistreated.

Opening arguments started at about 13:00 local time. They are being held in a back room in the lower-level courtroom.

‘Genuine discrepancies’

The defence are asking the jury to put aside the line-up photos and talk to the three witnesses – Ms Bennett’s former flatmate Michael Mina, his friend Joann Coglianese and Rittenhouse’s childhood friend James Peters – who will testify.

New Hampshire prosecutors are defending the lineup photos in the case, saying they were important and would help them retrace the events before the murder.

Awwida Borkhovic, a defense lawyer on behalf of the prosecution, says they show the absence of any genuine inconsistencies between the evidence she has heard so far, and the photos.

“At least five or six photographs show the totality of Jessica Bennett’s life and her lifestyle, and of that life, the situation that really has been portrayed as a split, it really doesn’t look that way,” she said.

Heaving sighs from the public gallery, the prosecution is moving on to the recording of a party the night before Jessica Bennett was killed.

Mr Rittenhouse’s lawyers say the audio and video shows a collaboration between his friends and Mr Mina who had plans to go and steal motorcycles from that night’s party.

However, prosecutors insist the conversation has only been re-aired because police were called to the scene where Ms Bennett was later found dead and said it was unnecessary and timed at the end of the night.

“During this chapter of the investigation, there were seven interviews, they were held in the hallway of a coffee shop, recorded, and then used as evidence in court. What the whole focus of that evidence is over, that’s fine, when that particular discussion happened, this is not relevant,” said Ms Borkhovic.

A few questions for Mr Mina

In court, the prosecution wants Mr Mina to answer some questions. If the defendant succeeds in forcing his witnesses to take the stand, it means some will be removed from the case.

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Mr Mina, who is currently out on bail, did not address the court.

His lawyer, Alan J Kahn, told the judge he expects Mr Mina to respond at an appropriate time in the coming days.

The defence’s opening argument is being led by Mike Cruz.

He told the court he expected the trial to last a week.

The defence rested after closing arguments.

The prosecution then finishes and the jury is given instructions to return at 1200 local time (1500 GMT).

The trial will then resume on 2 December.

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