KENOSHA, Wisconsin. – Kyle Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two men and wounded another in police protests and riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was found not guilty of murder and other charges on Friday in a deeply divisive case that sparked controversy in country. debates over vigilance, gun rights and the definition of self-defense.
After about 26 hours of deliberation, the jury appears to have accepted Mr Rittenhouse’s explanation that he acted wisely to defend himself in a riotous and tumultuous scene in August 2020, days after a white cop shot and killed Jacob Blake, a black resident, during the Summer riots following the assassination of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Mr. Rittenhouse, 18, sobbed and was detained by his lawyers after the jury finished delivering the verdict.
After the shooting, Mr. Rittenhouse went from a 17-year-old unknown from rural Illinois to a symbol. Some Americans were horrified by images of a teenager holding a high-powered semi-automatic rifle on a city street during racial justice demonstrations, a reminder of the extent of open arms laws in the United States. Others saw a well-meaning young man set out to keep the peace and provide medical care in response to the sometimes violent protests that swept American cities in the summer of 2020.
“So many people are looking at this case and seeing what they want to see,” warned the jury by Thomas Binger, the prosecutor at the trial. The trial became so politicized that conservative groups raised money to protect Mr. Rittenhouse, and small factions of protesters, including gun rights and racial justice protesters, awaited a verdict on the steps of the courthouse.
As the verdict was announced, Mr. Rittenhouse’s mother and sisters cried, and friends and relatives of the people shot by Mr. Rittenhouse grabbed each other. Outside, the silence gave way to shouts from Mr. Rittenhouse’s supporters. Governor Tony Evers prepared for any post-sentencing riots by authorizing 500 Wisconsin Army National Guard troops.
On August 25, 2020, Mr Rittenhouse arrived in downtown Kenosha with his rifle and first aid kit on the third day of civil unrest following the shooting of Mr Blake by Officer Rusten Sheski in a former factory town of 100,000. (In January, prosecutors announced that they had not accused Officer Sheski of wrongdoing.) Demonstrators marched peacefully at points, but some smashed street lights and set cars and shops on fire. Law enforcement was overwhelmed and dozens of civilians took their own firearms to guard factories and units, adding to the tense and chaotic atmosphere that included disputes between groups.
Testimony and video footage shown during the two-week trial showed that at one point Mr. Rittenhouse was chased into a parking lot by 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum, who was unarmed and behaving in a chaotic manner. Mr. Rittenhouse turned and shot him at close range, killing Mr. Rosenbaum, who lived in Kenosha.
Mr. Rittenhouse then shot and killed two other men, Anthony Huber and Gyge Grosskreutz, who pursued Mr. Rittenhouse as he fled, according to witnesses. Mr. Grosskreutz, a medic from a suburb of Milwaukee, survived and testified at the trial, stating that he pulled out a pistol because he believed Mr. Rittenhouse was an active shooter. Mr. Huber, 26, protested the killing of Mr. Blake, a longtime friend, who died after being shot in the chest.
During the trial, prosecutors attempted to portray Mr. Rittenhouse, a former resident of Antioch, Illinois, as an instigator who behaved criminally reckless, intervening in the explosive scene of the demonstrators, and then fired a pistol without the slightest provocation. …
Kenosha was in chaos that night, Attorney Binger told the jury in his opening remarks. But “the only one who killed anyone,” he said, “was the Defendant Kyle Rittenhouse.”
At the heart of the case, however, was a struggle for what could be qualified as self-defense. Wisconsin law permits the use of lethal force if the person “reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or serious injury to himself,” and the state does not have a duty to retreat before using force.
The prosecution tried their best to undermine the central defenses of Mr. Rittenhouse: that he feared for his life when he was pursued by Mr. Rosenbaum, the man who was captured on video throughout the evening, shouting threats and racial epithets and – by according to Mr. Rittenhouse. and a witness called by the prosecution promised to kill Mr. Rittenhouse if he found him alone. The testimony showed that Mr. Rosenbaum was discharged from the hospital that day, where he received psychiatric care and was treated for bipolar disorder and depression.
It was Mr. Rosenbaum, defense attorney Mark Richards, who said in his opening remarks, “lit the fuse” that night, “trying to take Kyle’s weapon away from him to use against him.”
However, in their testimony, some people observing Mr. Rosenbaum, who was 5 feet 4 inches, downplayed the danger they felt from him that night. Jason Lackowski, a former Marine and resident of Green Bay, Wisconsin, said he came to Kenosha with a pistol, knife and other weapons to “come down and help in whatever way we can to protect local property” in the city. , testified that he saw Mr. Rosenbaum as a “babbling idiot”.
Perhaps the closest witness to the meeting was Richie McGinniss, a videographer for The Daily Caller, a prosecution witness whose testimony helped establish an important defense detail: he said that Mr. Rosenbaum simply reached for the barrel of Mr. Rittenhouse’s rifle. before Mr. Rittenhouse fired.
“It was clear to me that this was a situation where something dangerous could have happened, whether it was Mr. Rosenbaum grabbing it or Mr. Rittenhouse shooting it,” said Mr. McGinniss at the stand.
Mr. McGinniss was also flustered in the courtroom as he described the trauma of the shootout and his fear when he realized he might have been shot by a bullet. Hearing gunshots just a few feet away, Mr. McGinniss said, he stamped his feet on the ground to make sure he was not injured.
Mr. Rittenhouse faced five serious crimes, including first-degree murder, first-degree reckless murder and first-degree attempted murder. A sixth charge of illegal possession of a rifle was dismissed by Judge Bruce Schroeder after defense attorneys argued that Mr. Rittenhouse did not violate state law because of his age and the length of the barrel of his semi-automatic rifle. The gun was bought by Dominic Black, a friend of Mr. Rittenhouse, because Mr. Rittenhouse was 17 years old and was not legally old enough to buy it, as witness testimony showed.
The trial, which took place at a courthouse in Kenoshi, which was shuttered and heavily barricaded during the August 2020 riots, was marked by angry clashes over the trial between a judge and lawyers, in particular prosecutor Binger.
Last week, the defense spoke out in favor of a wrong trial, suggesting that Mr Binger, who was asking questions about a topic previously banned by a judge, deliberately sabotaged the trial to avoid an acquittal.
Judge Schroeder, the longest-lived district court judge in Wisconsin, insisted that he wanted to keep politics out of his courtroom, berating the future juror during jury selection, who said his belief in the Second Amendment made him biased in benefit of Mr. Rittenhouse. … But the judge also drew attention on Veterans Day to the unusual move that prompted the jury to applaud the defense witness – the veteran – and to the fact that he occasionally wanders towards the jury in theory of law, Roman history and the Bible.
The jury heard the opinions of dozens of witnesses, including women who were close to the men who had been shot; other armed men who joined Mr. Rittenhouse in the streets of Kenos that night; and bystanders who broadcast the shooting live. On the most closely watched day of the trial, Mr. Rittenhouse testified in his defense.
His testimony began on an emotional note: he burst into tears as he remembered the night of the shooting, prompting the judge to adjourn. But most of the time Mr. Rittenhouse spent as a witness, he calmly said that he brought a pistol to the center of Kenosha for protection, did not plan to shoot it and did it only when he feared for his life.
Mr Grosskreutz, the only survivor of Mr Rittenhouse’s shots, described the chaotic scene at the booth after he heard the first few shots. Mr Grosskreutz testified that he ran in the direction of the fire to help the wounded. Seconds later, he ran into Mr. Rittenhouse, running down the street with a rifle in his hands, and began to follow in his direction, holding in his hands the pistol that Mr. Grosskreutz had brought.
When Mr. Huber gave chase and hit Mr. Rittenhouse with a skateboard, Mr. Rittenhouse shot Mr. Huber in the chest. Mr Grosskreutz continued to approach, he said in his testimony, first pointing his pistol in the air and then in the direction of Mr Rittenhouse.
“I have never tried to kill an accused,” he said. “At that moment I was trying to save my life.”