Kyle Rittenhouse cleared of all charges in Kenosha shootings
Last updated 11/19/2021 at 1:18pm
KENOSHA, Wis. - Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges Friday after pleading self-defense in the deadly Kenosha shootings that became a flashpoint in the debate over guns, vigilantism, racial injustice, and the role of law enforcement during riots.
Rittenhouse, 18, began to choke up, fell to the floor and then hugged one of his attorneys upon hearing the verdict.
He had been charged with homicide, attempted homicide and reckless endangering after killing two men and wounding a third with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle during a tumultuous night of protests over police violence against Black people, including Jacob Blake, in the summer of 2020.
Rittenhouse was 17 when he went from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha, where he worked and his father lived, after businesses in the city were ransacked and burned over the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer.
Blake was shot by police after pulling a knife and resisting arrest. Blake was wanted on a felony warrant for sex assault, after police responded to a call from the mother of his children, who said he was violating a restraining order, and was trying to take their kids and her vehicle.
Blake resisted being taking into custody, and was not subdued when cops fired stun guns at him. He tried to get into his estranged girlfriend's SUV, which contained his three sons, and Sheskey grabbed his shirt.
Prosecutors said video showed Blake turning towards Sheskey with a knife, prompting the officer to open fire.
In the Rittenhouse case, the former police youth cadet is white, as were those he shot.
The jury deliberated for close to 3 1/2 days.
Rittenhouse could have gotten life in prison if found guilty on the most serious charge, first-degree intentional homicide, or what some other states call first-degree murder.
As he dismissed the jurors, Circuit Judger Bruce Schroeder assured them the court would take "every measure" to ensure they are safe.
A sheriff's deputy immediately whisked Rittenhouse out a back door through the judge's chambers.
In reaction to the verdict, prosecutor Thomas Binger said the jury had spoken.
Rittenhouse wounded Gaige Grosskreutz in the arm just after fatally shooting Huber. Grosskreutz was seen in video footage approaching Rittenhouse with a pistol drawn before Rittenhouse fired a single round at Grosskreutz, injuring his arm. The charge carried a maximum sentence of 60 years.
Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed the charge of possession of a dangerous weapon by a minor Monday. Rittenhouse was 17-years-old at the time of the shooting. The charge only applied if the individual possessed, or was armed with a rifle or shotgun that was a short-barreled rifle or short-barreled shotgun, or if the person was not in compliance with certain hunting restrictions. Schroeder dismissed the charge on the grounds of an exception within the law relating to the gun's barrel.
Schroeder had previously dismissed a curfew violation charge against Rittenhouse, with the judge agreeing with the defense that the prosecution had not provided sufficient evidenced that a curfew had been in effect.
Despite Rittenhouse and the victims all being white, Rittenhouse was accused of being a white supremacist. President Biden aired a campaign ad before the election showcasing Rittenhouse as a white supremacist. Many national TV news channels represented the Rittenhouse case as involving racism despite there being only white people involved.
The backgrounds of the victims were not considered relevant to the Rittenhouse trial or presented in the courtroom. Rittenhouse victims were Rosenbaum, who was charged by a grand jury with 11 counts of child molestation and inappropriate sexual activity with children, including anal rape. The victims were five boys ranging in age from nine to 11 years old. He was convicted of two amended counts as part of a plea deal.
Huber was a known offender of domestic violence and rapist. Grosskreutz had been arrested on suspicion of multiple crimes, including felony burglary, and all three victims were convicted felons. Based on court records and inmate rosters, aspects of those claims were indeed accurate, while others were outright false.
Grosskreutz's arrest history from the state Department of Justice is lengthy. There are multiple dismissed cases, including an expungement, a felony that was expunged.
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is Black and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, reacted bitterly to the outcome.
"Over the last few weeks, many dreaded the outcome we just witnessed," Barnes said. "The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is what we should expect from our judicial system, but that standard is not always applied equally. We have seen so many black and brown youth killed, only to be put on trial posthumously, while the innocence of Kyle Rittenhouse was virtually demanded by the judge."
As the verdict drew near, Gov. Tony Evers pleaded for calm and said 500 National Guard members would be ready for duty in Kenosha if needed.
Carrying a weapon that authorities said was illegally purchased for the underage Rittenhouse, he joined other armed citizens in what he said was an effort to protect property and provide medical aid.
Bystander and drone video captured most of the frenzied chain of events that followed: Rittenhouse killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, then shot to death protester Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded demonstrator Gaige Grosskreutz, now 28.
Prosecutors portrayed Rittenhouse as a "wannabe soldier" who had gone looking for trouble that night and was responsible for creating a dangerous situation in the first place by pointing his rifle at demonstrators.
But Rittenhouse testified: "I didn't do anything wrong. I defended myself."
Breaking into sobs at one point, he told the jury he opened fire after Rosenbaum chased him and made a grab for his gun. He said he was afraid his rifle was going to be wrested away and used to kill him. Rittenhouse was videotaped running away from the attackers yelling "friendly, friendly".
Huber was then killed after hitting Rittenhouse in the head or neck with a skateboard, and Grosskreutz was shot after pointing a gun of his own at Rittenhouse.
The exact racial makeup of the Rittenhouse jury wasn't clear because jurors were not asked about their race in court.
The bloodshed in Kenosha took place during a summer of violent protests and riots set off across the U.S. by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other cases involving the police use of force against Black people.
While some Americans condemned Rittenhouse as a vigilante, some on the right hailed him as a hero who exercised his Second Amendment gun rights and tried to put a stop to lawlessness.
Then-President Donald Trump said it appeared Rittenhouse had been "very violently attacked." Supporters donated more than $2 million toward his legal defense.
Rittenhouse had also been charged with possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18, a misdemeanor that had appeared likely to lead to a conviction. But the judge threw out that charge before jury deliberations after the defense argued that the Wisconsin law did not apply to the long-barreled rifle used by Rittenhouse.
Schroeder's handling of the trial drew attention at several points, including when he led applause for military veterans on Veterans Day just before a defense witness who had been in the Army was about to take the stand. The judge also let Rittenhouse himself draw juror numbers from a raffle drum to set the final 12 who deliberated.
Video and testimony from some of the prosecution's own witnesses seemed to buttress Rittenhouse's claim of self-defense.
Witnesses described Rosenbaum as "hyperaggressive" and said that he dared others to shoot him and threatened to kill Rittenhouse earlier that night. A videographer testified Rosenbaum lunged for the rifle just before he was shot, and a pathologist said his injuries appeared to indicate his hand was over the barrel.
Also, Rosenbaum's fiancée disclosed that he was on medication for bipolar disorder and depression. Rittenhouse's lawyers branded Rosenbaum a "crazy person."
On the night of the shootings, law enforcement officers saw Rittenhouse and other armed people on the streets despite a curfew and gave them bottles of water, with one officer heard saying over a loudspeaker, "We appreciate you guys."
Witnesses testified that Rittenhouse was rendering aid to protestors that night and deescalating potentially violent situations.
Later, amid the tumult, Rittenhouse ran toward the police line with his weapon slung over his shoulder saying he had shot someone, but was not arrested that night. He later turned himself in to the police.
MICHAEL TARM, SCOTT BAUER and AMY FORLITI from the Associated Press contributed to this story.