Kyle Rittenhouse, who as a teenager killed two people and wounded a third when he opened fire during unrest in Wisconsin last summer and became a flash point in the nation’s simmering political conflict, was cleared on all charges during his murder trial on Friday.
Jurors deliberated for four days following a two-week trial that hinged on whether Rittenhouse was exercising his right to self-defense or whether he was the aggressor who started the fights that ended in bloodshed. As each successive not-guilty verdict was returned, Rittenhouse’s eyes began to well up and then he collapsed when he learned of his full exoneration.
The parents of one of Rittenhouse’s victims, Anthony Huber, said in a statement they couldn’t bear to attend the trial and watched from afar, hoping a conviction might bring them closure. “That did not happen,” they said. “Today’s verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered our son. It sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street.” They added they intend to see Rittenhouse in court again, suggesting they may file a civil lawsuit. (President Biden reportedly said, “I stand by what the jury has to say. The jury system works.”)
Rittenhouse was 17 last summer when he was staying in Kenosha away from his home in Illinois after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man. In Kenosha, he showed up armed with a rifle outside of a car lot he claimed to be protecting. During the televised trial, prosecutors argued that, by toting a gun, Rittenhouse had provoked the attacks made on him. In a particularly dramatic moment during closing arguments on Monday, lead prosecutor Thomas Binger picked up Rittenhouse’s rifle inside the courtroom, saying, “You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create.” The defense, meanwhile, argued that Rittenhouse, then a teenager, was in fear for his life against the men they say were attacking him when he shot them.
The case’s drama was heightened by a series of legal developments. One of the charges Rittenhouse faced, a misdemeanor count of illegal possession of a dangerous weapon by a minor, was dismissed by Judge Bruce Schroeder. Rittenhouse’s attorneys argued that because his rifle was long enough to be used for hunting, his possession did not violate the state’s law governing such firearms, which applies only to those 16 and under. It was one of many defeats for prosecutors, who suffered a series of setbacks throughout the case, such as when their witness Gaige Grosskreutz admitted he had pointed a handgun at Rittenhouse, who then shot him in the arm. At one point, Schroeder dressed down prosecutors for allegedly trying to admit as evidence matters the court had ruled out-of-bounds — which led to Rittenhouse’s attorneys making a motion for a mistrial, which Schroeder rejected. (The longest-serving judge currently active in the state’s trial courts, Schroeder had controversially prohibited the prosecution from referring to the people Rittenhouse killed and another man he shot as “victims,” arguing that the term could be prejudicial. Many observers of the trial were frustrated that the defense could use the terms “rioters,” “looters,” and “arsonists” to describe protesters.)
One of the most widely viewed events from the trial occurred on November 10, when Rittenhouse himself took the rare step of testifying and broke down in tears when describing the events of the night of August 25. Following a night of violent demonstrations that saw buildings torched, Rittenhouse arrived on the streets from his native Illinois, purportedly to help secure the town, saying he was acting as a medic when he stationed himself with a self-described militia protecting a mechanic’s shop.
Joseph Rosenbaum, a 36-year-old Kenosha resident who had been discharged from a psychiatric hospital earlier that day, started chasing Rittenhouse at some point and threw a plastic bag in his direction. The two soon met at close range in a parking lot, where Rittenhouse raised his rifle. Prosecutors argued he had provoked Rosenbaum into reaching for the weapon — and voided his claim of self-defense. Rittenhouse’s lawyers argued that Rosenbaum had provoked their client, who had no choice but to fire.
Rittenhouse then fled with about a dozen people following him and fired twice at a man who jump-kicked him. When Anthony Huber hit Rittenhouse with a skateboard, Rittenhouse shot him once in the chest, killing the 26-year-old, and then shot Grosskreutz once, nearly tearing off his right biceps, after Grosskreutz brandished a handgun. When Rittenhouse approached a police officer after the shootings, he was reportedly told to leave the scene. Rittenhouse left for Illinois, where he turned himself in.
Following the violence, Rittenhouse told a conservative media outlet that he was in Kenosha doing his “job.” While out on $2 million bail largely crowdfunded by conservative groups, he was seen hanging out with Proud Boys and wearing a T-shirt that read “Free as Fuck” at a Wisconsin bar.