KENOSHA, Wisconsin – Kyle Rittenhouse was cleared of all charges Friday after testifying that he acted in self-defense in the deadly Kenosha shootings that became a focus in the guns, vigilante and racial injustice debate in the United States
Rittenhouse, 18, began to choke, fell forward to the defense table, and then hugged one of his lawyers when he heard a clerk recite “not guilty” five times. A sheriff’s deputy led him through a back door.
“He wants to get on with his life,” said defense attorney Mark Richards. “He is very relieved about what the jury did to him today. He wishes none of this ever happened. But as he said when he testified, he didn’t start with it. “
The verdict in the politically explosive case met with anger and disappointment from those who viewed Rittenhouse as a vigilante and would-be cop, and relief and a sense of justification from those who viewed him as a patriot who stood up against lawlessness and exercised his rights Second amendment, right to carry a weapon and to defend oneself. Supporters donated more than $ 2 million to his legal defense.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, longtime civil rights activist, said the ruling threatens the safety of people protesting in support of black Americans.
“It seems to me that this is an open season for human rights protesters,” he said.
Rittenhouse was charged with manslaughter, attempted homicide and reckless endangerment, killing two men and injuring a third with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle in the summer of 2020 during a tumultuous night of protests against the shooting of the black Jacob Blake. by a white kenosha policeman.
Rittenhouse, a then 17-year-old former police youth cadet, said he went to Kenosha to protect his property from rioters but he was attacked and feared for his life. He’s white, just like the one he shot.
The anonymous jury, whose racial composition was not disclosed by the court but appeared to be predominantly white, deliberated for almost 3½ days.
Calling for calm, President Joe Biden said the outcome of the case “will leave many Americans angry and concerned, including me, but we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken.”
Former President Donald Trump, who said at the time of the shootings that it appears Rittenhouse had been “attacked very violently,” made a statement Friday congratulating Rittenhouse on the verdict, adding, “If this is not self-defense that’s nothing! “
Rittenhouse could have served life in prison if found guilty of the gravest charges, first degree murder, or what some other states call first degree murder. Two other charges were behind bars for over 60 years each.
Kenosha District Attorney Michael Graveley said his office respected the jury’s decision and urged the public to “accept the judgments peacefully and not use force”.
In the run-up to the verdict, Democratic Governor Tony Evers announced that 500 members of the National Guard would be ready in case of trouble. But hours after the jury returned, there were no signs of major protests or riots in Kenosha.
When he released the jury, District Judge Bruce Schroeder assured them that the court would take “all steps” to protect them.
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Black and Democratic candidate for the US Senate, condemned the result. Like many civil rights activists, he saw a racist double standard at work in the case.
“In the past few weeks, a lot of people have feared the result we just got,” said Barnes. “Presumption of innocence until proven guilty is what we should expect from our judicial system, but this standard is not always applied equally. We have seen so many black and brown youths killed only to be tried posthumously while the judge practically demanded Kyle Rittenhouse’s innocence. “
Other political figures on the right welcomed the verdict and condemned the trial against Rittenhouse.
Mark McCloskey, who came into conflict with the law when he and his wife waved a rifle and pistol at Black Lives Matter protesters who marched past his St. Louis home in 2020, said the ruling shows people do that Are right to face a “mob.” He is now a Republican candidate for the US Senate in Missouri.
Fifteen minutes after the verdicts, the National Rifle Association tweeted the text of the second amendment.
The Kenosha case was part of an extraordinary confluence of trials that reflected the deep racial divide in the United States: three white men are on trial in Georgia for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, while in Virginia a trial is pending over the fatal one White supremacy rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
The Kenosha bloodshed took place over a summer of sometimes violent protests sparked in the United States by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other police violence against blacks.
Rittenhouse moved to Kenosha from his home in nearby Antioch, Illinois, after shops were looted and burned down in the nights following Blake’s shooting. He joined other armed civilians on the streets and carried a gun that authorities said was illegally bought for him because he was a minor.
Viewers and drone videos captured most of the following wild events: Rittenhouse killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, then shot and killed protester Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded protester Gaige Großkreutz, now 28.
Prosecutors portrayed Rittenhouse as a “would-be soldier” who sought trouble that night and was responsible for creating a dangerous situation by pointing his rifle at demonstrators.
But Rittenhouse testified: “I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself. “
He once sobbed and told the jury that he opened fire after Rosenbaum pursued him and reached for his gun. He said he was afraid that his rifle could 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 approaching with his own pistol in hand.
On interrogation by the public prosecutor’s office, Grosskreutz said that he raised his hands as he approached the Rittenhouse and that he had no intention of shooting the young man. Prosecutor Thomas Binger asked Grosskreutz why he didn’t shoot first.
“That’s not the kind of person I am. That’s not why I was out there, ”he said. “I am not what I am. And definitely not someone I want to become. “
But during the cross-examination, Rittenhouse defense attorney Corey Chirafisi asked, “It wasn’t until you pointed your gun at him, walked towards him … did he shoot, right?”
“Correct,” replied Grosskreutz. The defense also submitted a photo of Grosskreutz pointing the gun at Rittenhouse, who was lying on the ground with his rifle at Grosskreutz.
Grosskreutz said during a follow-up examination by the public prosecutor’s office that he had no intention of pointing his gun at Rittenhouse.
Following the verdict, Huber’s parents, Karen Bloom and John Huber, said the result “sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any city, instigate violence, and then use the danger they create to shoot people on the streets justify”.
Rittenhouse’s mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, who was sitting next to her son on a court bench, gasped with joy, cried and hugged others around her.
Richards, the defense attorney, said Rittenhouse wants to become a nurse and that he is in counseling about post-traumatic stress disorder and will likely move because it is “too dangerous” for him to continue living in the area.
Many legal experts said they believed the defense had an advantage because of what was favorable to Rittenhouse in the Wisconsin Self-Defense Act and a video that tracks him at key moments. The testimony of some prosecution witnesses also appeared to support his claim to self-defense.
Some witnesses described Rosenbaum as “hyperaggressive” and said he dared others to shoot him and threatened to kill Rittenhouse earlier that night; others said he acted “belligerently” but did not pose a serious threat. A videographer testified that Rosenbaum jumped on the rifle shortly before the shot, and a pathologist said his injuries appeared to indicate that his hand was over the barrel.
Rosenbaum’s fiancée also announced that he was taking medication for bipolar disorder and depression. Rittenhouse lawyers called Rosenbaum a “crazy person”.
Rittenhouse had also been charged with the possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under the age of 18, an offense that has lasted nine months behind bars and is likely to result in conviction.
But the judge dismissed those charges before the deliberations after the defense argued that Wisconsin law did not apply to the cross-country rifle used by Rittenhouse.
The verdicts put an end to the criminal proceedings against Rittenhouse. He does not face federal charges, and it is unlikely as federal laws govern homicides only in very limited cases. No civil lawsuits have been filed against Rittenhouse either, but there are lawsuits against others. Huber’s father is suing Kenosha police and government officials for allowing a dangerous situation that resulted in his son’s death, and Großkreutz has a similar lawsuit. A group of protesters have sued the city and county of Kenosha, claiming that curfew laws have been enforced against them, but not against armed people like Rittenhouse.