KENOSHA, Wis. — Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges against him Friday, including intentional homicide – the most serious of five charges against him in a case that largely divided America along political and racial lines more than a year after he shot three men during a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Rittenhouse fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz during often violent protests in the summer of 2020 following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Rittenhouse, 17 at the time, faced charges ranging from intentional homicide to reckless endangerment. His attorneys argued he feared for his life and faced death threats from one of the men he killed that night.
The case garnered national attention from the beginning, a reflection of the country’s division over race, guns and politics.
Rittenhouse stood before the jury as the verdict was read. As each not guilty verdict was read, Rittenhouse started to cry. By the last verdict, he appeared to collapse. He was helped up and given water. Rittenhouse then hugged one of his attorneys, Corey Chirafisi.
Members of Rittenhouse’s family, sitting behind him in the courtroom, were all spotted in tears.
The verdict also meant that Judge Bruce Schroeder did not have to rule on the defense’s motions for a mistrial. Rittenhouse’s lawyers had sought to have a mistrial declared over alleged prosecutorial misconduct and issues with a key video in the state’s case.
Although Rittenhouse is white, as were his victims, the shootings occurred during a racial justice protest. Police mistreatment of people of color has become a cultural flashpoint on the left, just as social justice protests have for those on the right.
Blake, whose shooting sparked the protests in Kenosha, was left paralyzed, and the white police officer who shot him was cleared of any federal or state charges.
Rittenhouse said he was in Kenosha to help the community during the unrest, but prosecutors painted him as a vigilante looking for trouble.
While Rittenhouse argued he acted in self-defense, prosecutors said he provoked the attacks by bringing his AR-15 style rifle to the protest and pointing it at others, which the defense disputed.
Although Grosskreutz was armed with a pistol, Rosenbaum and Huber were not. Prosecutors said Rittenhouse should have fled or fought without firing his gun if he feared for his safety, but the defense argued he thought the men could take his firearm and use it to kill him or others.
Rittenhouse was acquitted on all five charges he faced: first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and two first-degree recklessly endangering safety counts. Rittenhouse fired at an unidentified man twice before he shot Huber and Grosskreutz. A Daily Caller reporter was at the scene of the Rosenbaum shooting and said a bullet whizzed past him.
Outside the courthouse, opposing groups of protesters exploded with cheers and boos as the verdict was read. Several of the demonstrators, including members of Jacob Blake’s family, said justice wasn’t given in the case.
“We’re going to continue to fight,” Justin Blake, the uncle of Jacob Blake, told news cameras posted outside. “Somehow, someway those 12 jurors who had the evidence found he was innocent of the charges, yet we have two young men that will never be walking through the door to their families again.”
Blake said, “we need to pray for their families.” Those nearby Blake held signs calling for “justice for the victims.” Another sign had a cut out of Rittenhouse’s body showing him wearing a T-shirt that read, “Konvict Killer Kyle.”
Rittenhouse became a conservative cause célèbre within days of the shootings. Those there to support Rittenhouse were in smiles. Some shouted, “praise God” and “justice has been served” while others held signs reading “FREE KYLE” or “Support the TRUTH.”
When asked about the case, President Joe Biden said, “I stand by what the jury has to say. The jury system works.”
On Telegram, an encrypted messaging app commonly used by extremist organizations, far-right groups celebrated Rittenhouse’s acquittal.
The trial’s eight days of testimony regularly included raw emotion and extreme tension. Rittenhouse took the stand last week in his own defense, and broke down when describing the events of Aug. 25, 2020.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Rittenhouse said while claiming self-defense. Later, Rittenhouse said: “I didn’t want to have to kill anybody that night.”
Some legal observers argued the prosecution bungled parts of the trial, and Rittenhouse’s lawyers filed a motion for a mistrial with prejudice, meaning he could not be retried, after lines of questioning from Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger that the defense objected to.
The defense also said a key drone video showing the shooting of Rosenbaum was shared with them in a lower quality during the trial, prompting their second mistrial motion. Schroeder didn’t rule on either.
Lara Yeretsian, a criminal defense attorney based in Los Angeles, said prosecutors focused too much on the weakest parts of their case.
“He would have done better to talk about whether the force used was proportionate to the threat, rather than focusing on the provocation angle, which was an extremely weak argument,” Yeretsian said.
Kyle Rittenhouse judge has gotten his share of criticism: Can a judge be removed from a case? Not likely.
The judge himself also emerged as a main character through a series of actions that left critics questioning his objectivity and supporters penning letters of praise.
Schroeder, the longest-serving current judge in Wisconsin, first drew national attention before the trial began in October, when he said the people shot by Rittenhouse couldn’t be called “victims” but could be called “rioters, looters and arsonists.”
During the trial, Schroeder angrily chastised prosecutors multiple times and prevented them from zooming in on an iPad video after suggesting that doing so could alter the footage.
Last week, the 75-year-old judge sparked new criticism by making a quip about “Asian food.” And Schroeder’s attempt to honor veterans led the courtroom to applaud a man who appeared to be the only veteran in the room: a witness for the defense.
Schroeder also dismissed a charge of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 a day before the jury began its deliberations. Another charge, for failure to comply with a state or local government emergency order, had been dismissed earlier in the trial.
Contributing: The Associated Press