Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenager who shot and killed two men and wounded another as violent protests against police brutality swept through Kenosha last year, was acquitted of homicide charges on Friday in a case that has amplified the national debate over vigilantism and law and order.
Rittenhouse, 18, had faced murder charges for his role in August 2020 shootings that left two men dead and another wounded.
It took the jurors — seven women, five men— nearly three days to reach their decision inside a downtown Kenosha courthouse, a capstone to a two week long trial that reignited the charged politics of the Trump era.
Since its start, this city and the rest of the country were on edge in anticipation of the verdict. On Friday, a handful of demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse in frigid temperatures and days earlier Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers deployed 500 national guard troops to be ready should any violence occur.
In the year since the August 2020 shootings, many on the right have embraced Rittenhouse as a symbol of heroism during violent protests that shook Kenosha, a city of 100,000 on the shores of Lake Michigan. Others on the left have characterized him as a teen who provoked violence when he traveled here with an AR-15 from his Illinois home.
The protests in Kenosha came in the days after a white police officer shot and paralyzed a Black man, Jacob Blake, after being called to an apartment complex for a domestic violence dispute.
Federal law enforcement and National Guard troops were dispatched across the city for several weeks to deter protesters and protect property.
During the unrest, video presented during the trial showed 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum chasing Rittenhouse through a parking lot before Rittenhouse shoots him.
The second man Rittenhouse killed, 26-year-old Anthony Huber, can be seen swinging a skateboard at his head before attempting to grab Rittenhouse’s rifle in the middle of a street where hundreds of protesters gathered. Moments later Rittenhouse fires a single shot that hits Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, in the arm. Grosskreutz was carrying a handgun.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors portrayed Rittenhouse as a calculated gunman — at times calling him an “active shooter” — who roamed the streets of Kenosha looking to spark violence.
“You lose the right to self-defense when you’re the one who brought the gun, when you are the one creating the danger, when you’re the one provoking other people,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas Binger in closing arguments.
Meanwhile, for much of the trial, and in closing arguments, his attorney, Mark Richards, painted those Rittenhouse shot and killed as the aggressors.
“Every person who was shot was attacking Kyle: One with a skateboard, one with his hands, one with his feet, one with a gun,” Richards said in his closing arguments. “My client does not have to take a beating from the hands of this mob.”
In a high-stakes move by the defense, Rittenhouse took the stand at his murder trial to tell his side of what happened on the streets that day in the August, at times sobbing.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Rittenhouse said. “I defended myself.”