A jury found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty of murder Friday afternoon for fatally shooting two men and injuring a third last year during riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, marking the end of a contentious trial that pitted the prosecution against the judge.
“The jury has represented our community in this trial and has spoken,” the lead prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger said.
Judge Bruce Schroeder said he “couldn’t have asked for a better jury” regarding their attentiveness to the court proceedings.
Rittenhouse was seen sobbing and embracing his defense attorneys after the verdict was read.
Rittenhouse, who is now 18, lives in Antioch, a northern suburb of Chicago about 15 miles from Kenosha. On August 25 of last year when he was 17, Rittenhouse decided to patrol the downtown Kenosha area alongside other armed men in order to protect a used car dealership from looting and vandalism. The city had devolved into rioting over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man, by a white Kenosha police officer.
Rittenhouse took a medical kit and armed himself with a Smith & Wesson M&P15, which is an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle that police say his friend illegally bought for him.
While guarding the used car dealership, he was chased by protesters and ended up fatally shooting two people, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and injuring a third, Gaige Grosskreutz. The defendant and the three men he shot are all white.
He was arrested and charged with five felony charges and one misdemeanor charge. The most serious charge was intentional homicide, Wisconsin’s top murder charge, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison. The others were reckless homicide, attempted homicide, two counts of reckless endangerment, and being a minor illegally in possession of a firearm.
On Monday, the judge dismissed the misdemeanor firearm charge, which was considered the easiest charge for the state to prove. Previously, Rittenhouse was also charged with violating curfew, but that charge was dismissed last week by the judge as well.
Rittenhouse pled not guilty to all charges. His attorneys argued that he acted in self-defense.
The murder trial began on Nov. 1 and lasted two weeks and a day. The jury was out for — days.
The prosecution and the defense made their closing arguments on Monday, prosecutors arguing that Rittenhouse was an “active shooter” who threatened those around him illegally.
“You lose the right to self-defense when you’re the one who brought the gun, when you are the one creating the danger, when you’re the one provoking other people,” Binger said.
Binger also called Rittenhouse’s character into question, asking whether it is “heroic or honorable” to shoot unarmed people. Rosenbaum and Huber were indeed unarmed, but the man Rittenhouse injured, Grosskreutz, was pointing a handgun at Rittenhouse when he was shot.
“That crowd was full of heroes,” Binger told the jury.
The defense offered a starkly different characertization of Rittenhouse and the events of the night of the shootings.
Rosenbaum was a threat, a “bad man,” and a “rioter,” and Rittenhouse “had to deal with him that night, alone,” lead defense attorney Mark Richards said in his closing arguments to the jury.
Richards argued that Huber attempted to seriously harm Rittenhouse by hitting him with a skateboard, and that Grosskreutz was attempting to shoot him.
“This case is not a game, this is my client’s life,” Richards said. “Every person who was shot was attacking Kyle.”
The trial has been closely watched nationally and has highlighted a stark divide between Americans who supported what they viewed as Rittenhouse’s right to defend himself and those who viewed him as a vigilante looking for trouble.
Over the course of the trial, the judge clashed with Binger, resulting in several acrimonious exchanges last week.
Even before the trial began, the judge ruled against the prosecution that the men Rittenhouse shot may not be referred to as “victims,” but they may be referred to as rioters, looters, or arsonists if the defense team provides evidence to support those characterizations.
Last week, the judge raised his voice at Binger repeatedly as he reprimanded him for several lines of questioning, including bringing up evidence the judge had already banned and quizzing Rittenhouse about why he remained silent after his arrest.
“Don’t get brazen with me!” Schroeder shouted at Binger. “I don’t want to have another issue as long as this case continues. Is that clear?”
In another emotional moment from last week, Rittenhouse defended his actions from the witness stand, breaking down at one point and sobbing as he attempted to describe the moments leading up to the first shooting.