By Nathan Layne | Reuters
KENOSHA, Wis. A jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse on Friday on charges of murdering two men and attempting to kill a third with his semi-automatic rifle during chaotic racing justice protests in 2020 in Wisconsin, where they determined the teenager was acting in self-defense.
A 12-man jury found Rittenhouse, 18, innocent on two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and two counts of reckless endangerment during street protests marred by arson, riots and looting on August 25, 2020 in the working-class city of Kenosha.
His trial polarized America and highlighted gaping divisions in American society over contentious issues such as gun rights.
Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and fired a bullet that tore part of the arm of Gaige Grosskreutz, 28.
Reaching their verdicts after more than three days of deliberations, the jury struggled with dueling narratives from the defense and prosecution that offered vastly different depictions of the teenager’s actions on the night of the shootings.
The defense claimed that Rittenhouse had repeatedly been attacked and had shot the men in fear for his life. They said he was a civilian teenager who had been in Kenosha to protect private property after several nights of unrest in the town south of Milwaukee.
The riots followed the police shooting of a black man named Jacob Blake, who was left paralyzed from the waist down.
Prosecutors portrayed Rittenhouse as a ruthless vigilant who provoked the violent encounters and showed no remorse for the men he shot with his AR-15-like rifle. The trial was livestreamed and dissected by cable TV experts daily and unfolded in a time of social and political polarization in the United States. Gun rights are valued by many Americans and are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, even though the nation is experiencing a high degree of gun violence and easy access to firearms.
Rittenhouse, who testified that he had no choice but to open fire to protect himself, is considered heroic by some conservatives who advocate for expansive gun rights and consider the shootings justified. Many on the left view Rittenhouse as an alertness and an embodiment of an American gun culture that is out of control.
Protests against racism and police brutality escalated in many U.S. cities following police killings of black man George Floyd in Minneapolis three months before the Kenosha shootings.
The Rittenhouse verdict ended the high-profile U.S. civilian self-defense case since a man named George Zimmerman was acquitted in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in Florida in 2013.
When so much of that night in Kenosha was captured on cell phone and surveillance video, there were only a few basic facts disputed. The lawsuit instead focused on whether Rittenhouse acted reasonably to prevent “imminent death or grievous bodily harm,” the requirement to use lethal force under Wisconsin law.
The prosecution, led by Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, tried to paint Rittenhouse as the aggressor, noting that he was the only one who killed anyone that night.
Rittenhouse’s pistol was loaded with 30 cartridges of full metal jacket bullets, which are designed to penetrate their targets. The jury watched a series of graphic videos, including moments after Rittenhouse fired four shots at Rosenbaum, who lay motionless, bleeding and moaning. Second video showed Grosskreutz screaming as blood gushed from his arm.
Rittenhouse testified in his own defense last Wednesday at the most dramatic moment of the trial – a risky decision by his lawyers given his youth and the prospect of harsh prosecution cross-examination. Rittenhouse broke down sobbing at one point, but stressed that he only shot at the men after being attacked.
“I did what I had to do to stop the person who was attacking me,” he said.
Rittenhouse testified that he shot Huber after hitting him with a skateboard and pulling at his weapon. He said he fired at Grosskreutz after the man aimed the gun he was carrying at the teenager – a claim Grosskreutz admitted during questioning by the defense. Rittenhouse testified that he shot Rosenbaum after the man chased him and grabbed his gun.