MICHAEL THARM, SCOTT BAUER and AMY FORLITY
KENOSHA, Wisconsin. (AP) – Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges on Friday after citing self-defense in deadly Kenosha shootings that became a hot spot in the US debate about weapons, vigilance and racial injustice.
Rittenhouse, 18, began to choke, fell to the floor, and then hugged one of his lawyers after hearing the verdict.
He was charged with murder, attempted murder and reckless threat after killing two men and wounding a third with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle during a tumultuous night of protests against police violence against blacks in the summer of 2020. Former police young cadets are white, like those he shot.
The jury, which looked predominantly white, sat for about 3.5 days.
Rittenhouse could get a life sentence if convicted of the most serious charge – first-degree murder or what some other states call first-degree murder.
After dismissing the jury, District Judge Bruce Schroeder assured them that the court would take “every step” to ensure their safety.
The deputy sheriff immediately dragged Rittenhouse out the back door and through the judge’s quarters.
In response to the verdict, Attorney Thomas Binger announced that a jury had spoken.
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a black Democratic candidate for the US Senate, reacted sharply to the outcome.
“Over the past few weeks, many have feared the kind of exodus we have just witnessed,” Barnes said. “The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is what we should expect from our judiciary, but this standard is not always applied in the same way. We saw so many black and brown youths killed just to face trial posthumously while the judge actually demanded Kyle Rittenhouse’s innocence. ”
As the verdict drew near, Governor Tony Evers called for calm and said that 500 members of the National Guard would be ready to serve in Kenosha if required.
Rittenhouse was 17 when he traveled from his home in Antioch, Illinois to Kenosha after businesses in the city were ransacked and burned by a white policeman wearing a black man, Jacob Blake.
With a weapon that authorities claim had been illegally acquired for the underage Rittenhouse, he joined other armed civilians who, he said, were trying to protect property and provide medical assistance.
Eyewitness and drone footage captures much of the furious chain of events that followed: Rittenhouse killed 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum, then shot and killed 26-year-old protester Anthony Huber and wounded protester Gaige Grosskreutz, now 28.
Prosecutors portrayed Rittenhouse as a “copycat soldier” who went out that night in search of trouble and was responsible for creating a dangerous situation, primarily by pointing his rifle at the demonstrators.
But Rittenhouse testified: “I have not done anything wrong. I defended myself. “
At one point, he burst into sobs and told the jury that he opened fire after Rosenbaum chased him and grabbed a pistol. He said he was afraid that his rifle would be snatched away and used to kill him.
Huber was then killed after hitting Rittenhouse in the head or neck with a skateboard, and Grosskreutz was shot after aiming his own gun at Rittenhouse.
The case was part of an extraordinary array of lawsuits that reflected deep racial divisions in the United States: Georgia is on trial for three white men for the murder of Ahmaud Arbury, and Virginia is on trial for a white supremacist death rally held in Charlottesville in 2017.
The exact racial makeup of Rittenhouse’s jury was not clear because the jury was not asked about their race in court.
The Kenosha bloodshed took place in the summer, when violent protests broke out in the United States over the assassination of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other cases involving the use of force by the police against blacks.
While some Americans denounced Rittenhouse as a vigilante, some on the right hailed him as a hero who exercised his Second Amendment right to arms and tried to end the lawlessness.
Then-President Donald Trump said it appeared that Rittenhouse was under a “very violent attack.” Supporters have donated over $ 2 million to protect him.
Rittenhouse was also charged with possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under the age of 18, which, apparently, could lead to a conviction. But a judge denied the charge ahead of a jury after the defense said Wisconsin law did not apply to the long-barreled rifle used by Rittenhouse.
Schroeder’s actions in court attracted attention on several occasions, including when he applauded military veterans on Veterans Day shortly before a defense witness serving in the military was about to speak. The judge also allowed Rittenhouse to draw the jury’s numbers from the lottery drum himself in order to determine the last 12 participants in the discussion.
Videos and testimonies from some prosecution witnesses appeared to corroborate Rittenhouse’s self-defense claim.
Witnesses described Rosenbaum as “hyperaggressive” and stated that he dared others to shoot him and threatened to kill Rittenhouse earlier that night. The videographer testified that Rosenbaum rushed for the rifle just before the shot, and the pathologist said his injuries most likely indicated that his hand was over the barrel.
Also, Rosenbaum’s fiancee said that he was taking medication for bipolar disorder and depression. Rittenhouse’s lawyers branded Rosenbaum “crazy.”
Some civil rights activists saw double racial standards in the treatment of white fighters.
On the night of the shooting, law enforcement officers saw Rittenhouse and other armed men on the streets despite the curfew and gave them bottles of water, while one of the officers heard over a loudspeaker say, “We appreciate you guys.”
Later, in the confusion, Rittenhouse managed to bypass the police line with a weapon slung over his shoulder and was not arrested that night.