Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty by a jury Friday on all five criminal charges at his closely watched trial for killing two unarmed men and shooting an armed man during civil unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year.
Jurors reached their verdict on their fourth day of deliberations.
Rittenhouse, who was shaking as the verdict was read, sat down and began crying after hearing the jury forewoman say “not guilty” five separate times just before 1:15 p.m. ET.
Judge Bruce Schroeder then thanked the 12 jurors for their service and dismissed them.
“He wants to get on with his life,” Rittenhouse’s lawyer Mark Richards said after the verdict, according to the Associated Press. “He has a huge sense of relief for what the jury did to him today.”
“He wishes none of this ever happened,” Richards said. “But as he said when he testified, he did not start this.”
The acquittal renders moot a pending motion by Rittenhouse’s lawyers, who on Wednesday had asked Schroeder to declare a mistrial on the grounds that they had received a copy of a drone video that was of inferior quality than the one available to prosecutors.
That video, prosecutors say, showed Rittenhouse, who was then 17 years old, pointing his AR-15-style rifle at protestors shortly before he fatally shot Anthony Huber, 26, and Joseph Rosenbaum, 26, on Aug. 25, 2020.
The Antioch, Illinois, resident claimed he was acting in self-defense.
President Joe Biden in a statement said, “While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken.”
“I urge everyone to express their views peacefully, consistent with the rule of law,” Biden said. “Violence and destruction of property have no place in our democracy.”
But the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader, said, “It seems to me that it’s open season on human rights demonstrators,” according to the AP.
The killings occurred during protests in Kenosha over the shooting two days earlier by a white police officer of a Black man, Jacob Blake, who was left paralyzed from the waist down after being hit with seven rounds to his back.
Kyle Rittenhouse reacts to the verdict during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, November 19, 2021.
Sean Krajacic | Pool | Reuters
Blake’s shooting came three months after the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, another Black man, ignited protests nationwide and demands for reform of police departments.
Those, in turn, led to a backlash among conservatives, including then-President Donald Trump, who condemned protestors.
At the trial, which began Nov. 1, Rittenhouse faced five felony charges: a single count each of first-degree reckless homicide and first-degree intentional homicide, two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, and a single count of attempted first-degree intentional homicide.
A sixth criminal count, possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under age 18, was dismissed by the trial judge on several grounds Monday before jurors got the case.
Kenosha business owners prepared for possible violence Monday, as closing arguments in the trial began. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers last week placed 500 members of the National Guard on standby in preparation for the verdict.
Rittenhouse has become a hero to some conservatives who say he was justified in killing Huber and Rosenbaum and injuring 27-year-old Gaige Grosskreutz in the shootings, which were captured on video and distributed across social media platforms.
Grosskreutz, a paramedic who had been treating protestors in Kenosha, was carrying a pistol in his hand as he advanced on Rittenhouse after hearing Rittenhouse had shot someone, he later testified.
“I thought that the defendant was an active shooter,” Grosskreutz testified.
Liberals, on the other hand, have condemned Rittenhouse as a reckless vigilante who has been embraced by racist groups such as the Proud Boys.
In recent weeks, those critics of Rittenhouse have been dismayed as Schroeder, the trial judge, castigated prosecutors at various points, and barred them from referring to the shot men as “victims” while allowing the defense lawyers to call them “rioters,” “arsonists” and “looters.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a political case,” Rittenhouse lawyer Mark Richards told jurors during closing arguments.
“The district attorney’s office is marching forward with this case because they need somebody to be responsible. They need somebody to … say, ‘We did it, he’s the person who brought terror to Kenosha,” Richards said.
“Kyle Rittenhouse is not that individual. The rioters, the demonstrators who turned into rioters. Those are the individuals.”
Rittenhouse testified at trial that he traveled from his home about 20 miles away to Kenosha with a semi-automatic rifle to protect businesses there during protests over Blake’s shooting.
Due to his age at the time, Rittenhouse was too young to have legally purchased the rifle, which a friend bought for him with Rittenhouse’s money, authorities have said.
“I brought the gun for my protection,” Rittenhouse testified. “I didn’t think I would have to use the gun and end up defending myself.”
Rittenhouse claimed he was trying to protect his own life when he took the lives of Rosenbaum and Huber.
“I didn’t intend to kill them. I intended to stop the people who were attacking me,” Rittenhouse said. “I did what I had to do to stop the person who was attacking me.”
Rittenhouse testified that Huber had hit him with a skateboard and grabbed his rifle.
“Mr. Huber runs up, as I’m getting up, he strikes me in the neck with his skateboard a second time,” Rittenhouse said. “He grabs my gun, and I can feel it pulling away from me, and I can feel the straps coming off my body. I fire one shot.”
During closing statements Monday, prosecutor Thomas Binger dismissed Rittenhouse’s defense.
“You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create,” Binger told jurors, arguing that Rittenhouse had “brought a gun to a fistfight.”
“So consider, for example, whether or not it’s heroic or honorable to provoke and shoot unarmed people,” Binger said.
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