KENOSHA, Wisconsin – Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot dead two men and injured another amid protests and riots against police conduct in Kenosha, Wis., Has been found not guilty of homicide and others counts Friday, in a deeply controversial case that sparked debate over self-defense, gun rights and the definition of self-defense.
After about 26 hours of deliberation, a jury appeared to accept Mr Rittenhouse’s explanation that he acted reasonably to defend himself in an unruly and hectic scene in August 2020, days after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a black resident, in a summer of turmoil following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Mr Rittenhouse, 18, sobbed and was held back by his lawyers after the jury finished reading his verdict.
After the shooting, Mr. Rittenhouse went from a 17-year-old stranger from rural Illinois to a symbol. Some Americans have been horrified by images of a teenager carrying a powerful semi-automatic rifle on a city street during racial justice protests, a reminder of the extent of open port laws in the United States. Others saw a well-meaning young man set out to keep the peace and provide medical aid, in response to the sometimes violent protests that rocked American cities in the summer of 2020.
“So many people are looking at this case and seeing what they want to see,” warned jurors Thomas Binger, the trial attorney, before starting deliberations. The trial had become so politicized that Tory groups raised money in defense of Mr Rittenhouse, and small factions of protesters – including gun rights supporters and racial justice protesters – had waited for the verdict on the steps of the courthouse.
As the verdict was read, Mr Rittenhouse’s mother and sisters cried, and friends and family of the men shot by Mr Rittenhouse huddled together. Outside, the calm gave way to the cries of Mr. Rittenhouse’s supporters. Governor Tony Evers had prepared for any trouble after the verdict by authorizing 500 Wisconsin National Guard soldiers.
On August 25, 2020, Mr. Rittenhouse arrived in downtown Kenosha with his rifle and a medical kit on the third day of civil unrest following the shooting of Mr. Blake by Constable Rusten Sheskey in the former industrial town of 100,000 inhabitants. (In January, prosecutors announced they were not charging Constable Sheskey with wrongdoing.) Protesters marched peacefully in some locations, but some smashed streetlights and set cars and shops on fire. Law enforcement was overwhelmed and dozens of civilians took their own guns to guard businesses and housing estates, adding to a tense and chaotic atmosphere that included fighting between the groups.
Testimonies and video footage released during the two-week trial revealed that Mr Rittenhouse was chased in a parking lot, at one point, by Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, who was unarmed and behaved in an unarmed manner. erratic. Mr. Rittenhouse turned and shot him at point blank range, killing Mr. Rosenbaum, who lived in Kenosha.
Mr Rittenhouse then shot two other people – Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz – who were chasing Mr Rittenhouse as he fled, according to testimony. Mr. Grosskreutz, a paramedic from the Milwaukee suburb, survived and testified at the trial, claiming he pulled out a gun because he believed Mr. Rittenhouse was an active shooter. Mr Huber, who was 26 and was protesting the shooting of Mr Blake – a longtime friend – died from a gunshot to the chest.
During the trial, prosecutors sought to portray Mr. Rittenhouse, a former resident of Antioch, Illinois, as an instigator who behaved with criminal recklessness, inserting himself into an explosive scene of protesters and then pulling with little provocation. .
Chaos reigned that night in Kenosha, prosecutor Mr. Binger told the jury in his opening statement. But “the only one who killed someone,” he said, “was the accused, Kyle Rittenhouse”.
At the heart of the matter, however, was a fight over what were termed acts of self-defense. Wisconsin law permits the use of lethal force if a person “reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or grievous bodily harm to himself,” and in the state, he does there is no obligation to retreat before resorting to force.
The prosecution struggled to undermine Mr Rittenhouse’s central defense: which he feared for his life when he was hunted down by Mr Rosenbaum, a man who had been filmed throughout the evening on the train shouting racist threats and epithets and – according to Mr Rittenhouse and a witness called by the prosecution – had promised to kill Mr Rittenhouse if he found him alone. Mr Rosenbaum was released that day from a hospital where he received psychiatric treatment and was treated for bipolar disorder and depression, according to testimony.
It was Mr. Rosenbaum, defense attorney Mark Richards, said in his opening statement, who “lit the fuse” that night, “trying to take Kyle’s gun away from him for use. against him”.
Yet, in their testimony, some people who observed Mr. Rosenbaum, who was 5 feet 4 inches tall, downplayed the danger they perceived from him that night. Jason Lackowski, a former Marine and resident of Green Bay, Wisconsin, who said he traveled to Kenosha with a gun, knife and other weapons to “come down and help in any way he could, to protect local property “in the city, testified that he viewed Mr. Rosenbaum as” a talkative idiot. “
Perhaps the closest witness to the meeting was Richie McGinniss, a videographer for The Daily Caller, a prosecution witness whose testimony was helpful in establishing a crucial detail for the defense: He said Mr. Rosenbaum had hit the barrel of Mr. Rittenhouse’s rifle just before Mr. Rittenhouse fired.
“It was clear to me that this was a situation where it was likely that something dangerous was going to happen, whether it was Mr. Rosenbaum catching him or Mr. Rittenhouse pulling him,” Mr. McGinniss said at the stand. .
Mr McGinniss also became emotional in the courtroom when he described the trauma of the gunfire and his fear when he realized he may have been hit by a bullet. After hearing the gunshots just a few feet away, Mr McGinniss said, he slapped his legs on the ground to make sure he had not been injured.
Mr Rittenhouse had faced five felonies, including intentional first degree homicide, reckless first degree homicide and attempted first degree intentional homicide. A sixth charge, for unlawful possession of a rifle, was dismissed by Judge Bruce Schroeder after defense attorneys argued that Mr Rittenhouse did not violate the law of the state in question because of his age and the length of the barrel of his semi-automatic rifle. The gun was purchased by Dominick Black, a friend of Mr. Rittenhouse, because Mr. Rittenhouse was 17 and not of legal age to purchase it, according to testimony.
The trial, which took place in the Kenosha courthouse which was closed and heavily barricaded during the unrest of August 2020, was marked by violent clashes over the legal process between the judge and lawyers, in particular the prosecutor, Mr. Binger.
The defense last week called for the trial to be quashed, suggesting that Mr Binger – who had asked about a topic the judge had previously ruled banned – was intentionally sabotaging the trial to avoid an acquittal.
Judge Schroeder, Wisconsin’s longest-serving circuit court judge, insisted he wanted to keep politics out of his courtroom, berating a potential juror during jury selection who said that his belief in the Second Amendment made him biased in favor of Mr. Rittenhouse. But the judge also drew attention to Veterans Day for the unusual step of having the jury clap a defense witness – a veteran – and periodically engage in winding asides for the jury on legal theory, Roman history and the Bible.
Jurors heard from dozens of witnesses, including women close to the men who had been shot; other armed people who had joined Mr. Rittenhouse in the streets of Kenosha that night; and witnesses who broadcast the shootings live. On the most closely watched day of the trial, Mr. Rittenhouse testified in his own defense.
His testimony began on a moving note: he broke down in tears as he remembered the night of the shooting, prompting the judge to request a recess. But for most of the time on the witness stand, Mr Rittenhouse delivered a calm account, claiming he had brought a gun to downtown Kenosha for protection, had no intention of firing and only did so when he feared for his life.
Mr Grosskreutz, the sole survivor of Mr Rittenhouse’s gunfire, described the chaotic scene at the stand after hearing the first shots ring out. Mr Grosskreutz testified that he ran in the direction of the shots, determined to help those who had been injured. Within moments he met Mr. Rittenhouse, fleeing down the street holding his rifle, and started following him in his direction, holding a pistol that Mr. Grosskreutz had brought.
When Mr. Huber chased and threw a skateboard at Mr. Rittenhouse’s head, Mr. Rittenhouse shot Mr. Huber in the chest. Mr. Grosskreutz continued to approach, he said in his testimony, first with his gun pointed in the air and then in the direction of Mr. Rittenhouse.
“I never tried to kill the accused,” he said. “At that time, I was trying to save my own life.”