A jury on Friday acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse of murder and other felony charges.
Rittenhouse, the teenager from Antioch, Illinois went to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and shot three men, killing two of them and wounding the third, during a protest against police brutality last year.
The killer’s lawyers argued that the teenager—who crossed state lines with an illegally-obtained AR-15 assault rifle to attend a protest that erupted after the August 2020 police shooting of Jacob Blake — fired in self-defense.
Blake, an unarmed 29-year-old black father whose children were present at the time, was shot in the back seven times and left partially paralyzed by a white police officer, Rusten Sheskey, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The officers involved in the shooting were not charged with any crimes, and Sheskey returned to regular police duty in April 2021.
As Blake fought for his life at the hospital, protesters took to the streets.
The ensuing demonstrations were marked by daily peaceful protests that were followed at night by confrontations with law enforcement, rioting and arson. A state of emergency was declared on August 23, and the National Guard was activated the following day.
Further confrontations arose when armed militia members, whom Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth described as “like a group of vigilantes”, arrived with the expressed intent of protecting businesses in the city.
The jury weighed Rittenhouse’s fate for nearly three and a half days before it acquitted the killer on all counts.
Jurors in the polarizing case said they had voted to acquit Rittenhouse, 18, of homicide, attempted homicide and other charges related to the August 2020 shootings in Kenosha, Wis.
Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and injured Gaige Grosskreutz, who was 26 at the time.
Rittenhouse testified that he fired in self-defense and pleaded not guilty to all counts.
Grosskreutz, a protest medic whose right arm was torn apart by a shot fired from point-blank range, advanced on the teen after the two dead victims had been killed in an attempt to disarm him as the gunman fled the scene.
Throughout the trial, Judge Bruce Schroeder repeatedly castigated the prosecutor for presenting evidence that was not in Rittenhouse’s favor.
The lead prosecutor in the case, Thomas Binger, argued that Huber, Grosskreutz, and Maurice Freeland, the narrowly missed protester who was referred to as “Jump Kick Man” were “heroes” who risked their lives to disarm a shooter who had just killed an unarmed man.
Rittenhouse’s far-right defenders say he is not a murderer but a hero. The prosecutor says the protesters who tried to disarm him were the real heroes.
A federal civil rights lawsuit accuses Kenosha law enforcement officials of conspiring with armed militias last year to intimidate protesters and create the chaos that led to deadly shootings by an Illinois teenager.
Rittenhouse victim Grosskreutz’s lawsuit contends police and sheriff’s deputies in effect deputized “a band of white nationalist vigilantes” the night of Aug. 25, and coordinated with them to protect property and help maintain order in Kenosha during the third night of protests that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Rittenhouse shot Grosskreutz in the arm.
Reactions outside the court were mixed, as some celebrated the verdict while others asked if it is not legal to go around killing anybody as long as one claims the slaying is done in self-defense.