KENOSHA, Wisc. >> Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who shot and killed two men at a chaotic Black Lives Matter protest in Wisconsin last year, was acquitted of all charges today in a case that became a touchstone for the nation’s sharply divided political left and right.
After a two-week trial, a jury in Kenosha found Rittenhouse not guilty of two counts of homicide, one of attempted homicide and two of reckless endangerment, as well as lesser charges. Rittenhouse, who broke down on the witness stand, had argued that he fired his AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle in self-defense.
Rittenhouse collapsed in tears today as the verdict was read out. His lawyers helped him stand as his mother sobbed in relief. The judge thanked the jurors, saying they were wonderful. The prosecution quickly filed out of the courtroom. Cameras captured a few dozen protesters and reporters gathering outside the courthouse.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers last week authorized 500 National Guard troops to Kenosha as the town prepared for the verdict. As the trial wound down, people gathered outside of the Kenosha County Courthouse with signs saying “Black Lives Matter” and “Self-Defense is Not a Crime.”
“A clean sweep is rare so, it’s a huge win for the defense, and a huge blow to the government,” Paul E. Bucher, who served as a district attorney or assistant district attorney in Wisconsin for more than three decades, said in an interview.
Bucher said he didn’t believe Rittenhouse was “looking for trouble” that night but that he expected the jury to convict him on at least one of the lesser charges and to spend three to five years behind bars.
The defense clearly outshone the prosecution, Bucher said in an earlier interview during jury deliberations this week. He said he thought the government may have underestimated the strength of the self-defense case. In addition, the extensive video played at the trial worked better for the defense because it showed the chaos surrounding Rittenhouse, Bucher said.
The August 2020 shootings, captured in large part on cell-phone video, came during a summer of social upheaval across the U.S. following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd. Rittenhouse became a hero in some conservative circles, with several groups raising money for his defense. For liberals, Rittenhouse was a symbol of vigilante justice, and then-candidate Joe Biden included his image in a September 2020 video about Donald Trump failing to disavow White supremacists.
“He was not held responsible for his actions, something that is not surprising,” Shaadie Ali, interim executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said in a statement. “Police do not protect communities of color in the same way they do white people.”
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who was briefing reporters as the verdict was announced, was asked about it and had no immediate reaction.
People came to the courthouse this week for a variety of reasons. Emily Cahill, 33, a resident of Illinois, said she traveled to Kenosha “to show support for Kyle Rittenhouse.”
She says that if “I was in that situation and where a gun was pointed at me and I defended myself, I would want somebody to be out here showing support for me.”
“The whole city’s been on edge,” said Francis Ellingsworth, 55, who came to the courthouse Monday to show his 16-year-old daughter what is going on in their community. “I mean you can still see business boarded up, people are still kind of nervous and scared. It’s not been normal, at all.”
Rittenhouse, then 17, traveled about 20 miles from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha on Aug. 25 of last year. He said he went to protect businesses from rioters and attend to any injured. Protesters in the city were gathering two days after a White police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, paralyzing him from the waist down.
He was charged in the deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and the wounding of Gaige Grosskreutz. He faced five counts ranging from recklessly endangering safety to intentional homicide, after the judge dismissed a weapons possession charge and a count of violating a curfew.
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger told the jury in his closing statement on Monday that Rittenhouse chose to put himself in a volatile situation at the protest that night despite warnings from city authorities to stay away. He said the teenager was among a group of armed “chaos tourists” and “wannabe soldiers acting tough” who claimed to be guarding property from vandals.
“This isn’t a situation where he was protecting his home or his family,” Binger said, adding: “You cannot claim the right to self-defense for a danger you create.”
But defense lawyer Mark Richards, in his own closing, told the panel his client “feared for his life” if he should be disarmed as he was attacked by rioters. Video evidence showed that Rittenhouse was chased by the men he shot at, including some who tried to take his gun from him or knock him out, Richards said.