Consultant who helped with O.J. Simpson jury is working with Rittenhouse lawyers

Veteran jury expert and trial consultant Dr. Jo-Ellan Dimitrius has been advising the accused killer's attorneys in court; she was reportedly hired months ago.

Dr. Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, a veteran jury expert and trial consultant, has been working closely with the attorneys representing accused killer Kyle Rittenhouse. 

Dimitrius, 67, became well known in 1995 for developing a jury profile of the 12 people who ultimately acquitted O.J. Simpson. She also has been involved in several high-profile cases, including those of Rodney King, Scott Peterson, Jayson Williams and Kobe Bryant.

According to CNN, Dimitrius was retained by Rittenhouse’s attorneys to help them determine the “right” juror profile in his case, 

Defense jury expert Jo-Ellan Dimitrius (left) talks with Wendy Rittenhouse (right), the mother of Kyle Rittenhouse, before closing arguments during the 18-year-old’s trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse on Monday in Kenosha, Wisconsin. (Photo: Mark Hertzberg-Pool/Getty Images)

Dimitrius also helped select juries in widely watched civil trials, including one environmental lawsuit in which the City of New York was awarded more than $100 million in a case against petroleum giant Exxon.

Images taken in the Kenosha County Courthouse courtroom Monday captured Dimitrius comforting an emotional Wendy Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old defendant’s mother, during trial testimony.

A jury profile is a list of characteristics that trial lawyers deem to be favorable or unfavorable to their case, according to Lisa A. Blue, a forensic pathologist in Texas. This could include determining the type of person who would be sympathetic or hostile to the defendant or the image they present. 

A California native, Dimitrius has been studying the behaviors of juries since graduate school. According to her company bio, her doctoral dissertation was titled “The Representative Jury: Fact or Fallacy.” With a focus on psychology, she has consulted in over 1,000 trials, evaluated more than 10,000 jurors, authored two books and co-authored a third, titled Jury Selection in Civil and Criminal Cases. American Lawyer magazine has reportedly nicknamed her “The Seer.”

Dimitrius may have had some influence in selecting the 20 people initially chosen for the Rittenhouse jury, which includes 11 women, nine men and only one person of color. Two jurors were dismissed. One was a middle-aged man who was dismissed for telling an inappropriate joke about Jacob Blake, whose shooting by Kenosha police was the cause for the protests at which Rittenhouse shot three people, two of them fatally. A pregnant woman was dismissed after she complained of physical discomfort. 

Randy Peukert, the vice president of Dimitrius & Associates, told CNN that his associate, Dimitrius, is the best “probably on the planet” at developing jury profiles. “There’s always research done,” he said. “It really gives them [the defense] the added benefit and confidence … what they are presenting will resonate with a jury.”

According to Peukert, Dimitrius was hired four to six months ago.

The final 12 jurors were selected Tuesday by a lottery system, during which Kyle Rittenhouse himself pulled six slips of paper from a large drum; the jurors indicated on each were dismissed, and the 12 who remained went into deliberations.

The practice is common in Wisconsin. However, John P. Gross, the director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Public Defender Project, told NBC News he has only seen judges do the picking. “It’s completely random, and whoever is picking is picking,” Gross said. “It was an interesting piece of theater having the judge inviting the defendant to make the draw.”

Another law professor from the University of Wisconsin opined that the optics of Rittenhouse picking from the drum were bad. “I know it’s a random selection, but I have some concerns about it,” Ion Meyn said. “To me, from the optics side, it doesn’t make sense. I don’t think it was a good idea.”

The eyebrow-raising act followed a series of rulings made by Judge Bruce Schroeder that have caused many people to believe he is openly sympathetic to Rittenhouse. Just before the case went to the jury, Schroeder dropped a charge against the defendant as a minor in possession of a firearm. Rittenhouse’s defense dug up the legislation which reads that a minor in possession of a gun is only illegal if that weapon is short-barreled. An AR-style rifle is not.

The jury in the trial of the State of Wisconsin vs Kyle Rittenhouse began deliberations Tuesday at 9 a.m. CT. As of press time, the only thing they have requested are extra copies of the jury instructions. 

Rittenhouse is charged with five felonies: first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety. Jurors have been instructed that they can consider lesser charges on two of the counts. If convicted of the most serious charge, Rittenhouse will be sentenced to mandatory life in prison. 

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