Kyle Rittenhouse is a teenager who shot and killed two men and wounded another man last year in a violent protest against police brutality that swept Kenosha. He was acquitted in a high-profile case that has intensified a heated national debate on guns, vigilance, and law and order.
As the verdict of each crime was announced, the 18-year-old was shaking and sobbing—for the fifth and final time he was “not guilty”—kneeling to the ground.
Rittenhouse was 17 years old at the time of the killing and faced charges including intentional homicide and reckless harm.
The jurors — seven women and five men — spent 3.5 days in the courthouse in downtown Kenosha making their decisions. Two-week trial This reignited the intense politics of the Trump era.
The August 2020 shooting took place during a racial justice demonstration that swept the country after the police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Rittenhouse immediately became a celebrity in right-wing groups, who called him a patriot and a “good guy with a gun.” They raised funds — paid a large part of his $2 million bail — and produced his murals, flooding social media. Some supporters even put on the teenager’s new tattoo.
The then-President Trump refused to condemn the shooting and hinted that Rittenhouse was in self-defense, an argument that Rittenhouse’s lawyers used to win his case.
Supporters of Rittenhouse celebrated the verdict as a victory for the Americans’ right to use guns to protect themselves and their property.
“Self-defense is a God-given right, and Kyle defends himself,” Dudley Brown, executive director of the National Gun Rights Foundation in Loveland, Colorado, said in a statement. “We hope Kyle can now live a free and prosperous life. All Americans will understand that the Second Amendment is not about hunting — it is about protecting yourself from tyranny and lawless criminals.”
Trump also issued a statement: “Congratulations to Kyle Rittenhouse for being found not guilty. This is called being found not guilty-by the way, if this is not self-defense, then it is nothing!”
Many others believe that Rittenhouse brought the AR-style semi-automatic rifle to the Kenosha protests, which caused violence.
Although President Biden and other politicians expressed that they must respect the jury’s decision, some expressed concern that the verdict might send a dangerous message.
Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, said: “I worry that some people will portray Rittenhouse as a hero, which encourages vigilance.” “Our society is in such a stressful period. I hope everyone can condemn Rittenhouse’s actions, even if he is found not guilty.
He said: “A 17-year-old young man bringing AR-15 into tension is a source of trouble.”
Phil Haney, a 78-year-old resident of Kenosha, was one of dozens of people who gathered outside the court to accept the verdict. He said he was “dumb”.
“It now makes people feel that they can run around with a rifle and shoot people in chaos,” he said.
The jury did not consider whether Rittenhouse should appear on the streets of Kenosha with a rifle. Instead, it must decide on the narrower question of whether he is acting in self-defense every time the trigger is pulled.
Prosecutors portrayed Rittenhouse as a shrewd gunman—sometimes describing him as an “active shooter”—wandering the streets of Kenosha, hoping to provoke violence.
“When you are the person with a gun, when you are the person who creates danger, when you are the person who provokes others, you lose the right to self-defense,” the deputy director. Atty. Thomas Binger told the jurors.
But as the trial progressed, many legal experts began to believe that it was difficult for the prosecutor to prove that Rittenhouse did not act in self-defense.
The video played during the trial showed that 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum chased Rittenhouse through the parking lot before shooting.
The second person killed by Rittenhouse, 26-year-old Anthony Huber, can be seen waving over Rittenhouse’s head before trying to grab his rifle in the middle of the street where hundreds of protesters gathered skateboard.
Moments later, Rittenhouse fired a shot that hit the 26-year-old Gaige Grosskreutz in the arm.
The crucial moment of the trial was when Gross Kruitz testified that he pointed a pistol at Rittenhouse before Rittenhouse shot him.
Legal experts said they were not surprised by the verdict.
Julius King, a Wisconsin criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor, said: “Just by legal standards, this is a simple self-defense case.” “It’s not complicated.”
Last year, the demonstrations in Kenosha, a city of 100,000 people on the shore of Lake Michigan, took place in Rasten Siski, A white Kenosha police officer shot and killed a black man, Jacob Black, After being called to an apartment building due to a domestic violence dispute.
Black held a knife when he was hit by several bullets and later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor crimes. Sheskey was cleared during the investigation and stayed in the department.
Federal law enforcement agencies and the National Guard were deployed across the city within a few weeks to deter protesters and protect property. Many small businesses were destroyed or damaged in the turmoil.
Among the high-risk actions of the defender, Rittenhouse Took a stand Tell him what happened on the street on the day of the massacre that happened next to him.
He testified that he appeared to protect property and provide medical assistance to anyone in need.
“I did nothing wrong,” Rittenhouse said. “I defend myself.”
His lawyer Mark Richards said at a press conference after the verdict that Rittenhouse “hopes that none of this will happen.”
The families of the two victims expressed disappointment.
Huber’s parents Karen Bloom and John Huber said in a statement: “The man who murdered our son does not have to bear any responsibility.” “It sent an unacceptable The message is that armed civilians can appear in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they create to justify shooting in the street.”
Despite the outcome of the case, Rob Kovac, chairman of the Wisconsin Gun Owners Association, said he was concerned about the status of gun rights.
He said: “Because of fear that such wrongful prosecutions will occur in the future, people may feel that they cannot exercise their right to protect their safety.”
He also expressed regret that Rittenhouse, despite his not guilty verdict, “is always regarded as’the one who shot those people in Wisconsin’.”
To wait for the verdict, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers sent 500 National Guards to stand by to prevent any protests in Kenosha.
Some residents said on Friday that they are prepared to take to the streets in the next few days to oppose the verdict. Aphrx Ashe, who marched in the city in the summer of 2020, predicted that “there will be many civil arrests.”
“It’s sad to see the United States insisting on white supremacy and opposition to black life so much,” said Ash, who viewed the judgment from a racial perspective-confirming that “a person’s judicial system is a pale person.”
Ash, who is black and transgender, said that people like them have never seen “justice from the government.”
On Friday night, the streets remained calm.
51-year-old Shirley Thompson, a Republican and Rittenhouse supporter, said she fears that the divisions in her city exposed by the trial will only get deeper.
“I hope I was wrong in things,” she said. “I don’t want to experience what happened last year.”
Lee reported from Kenosha and Kaleem from Los Angeles. Maura Dolan and Chris Megerian in Washington contributed to this report.