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 nation’s debate over guns, vigilantism and racial injustice.
Rittenhouse, 18, cried and hugged one of his attorneys upon hearing the verdict. The decision came in the fourth day of jury deliberation in the trial, which began with jury selection on Nov. 1.
Rittenhouse, 18, shot two men to death and wounded a third during a night of unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He contended that he came to the area to help protect a local business and fired in self-defense after being attacked.
The most serious charge before jurors could put Rittenhouse in prison for the rest of his life.
Prosecutors characterized Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Illinois, as an instigator and “chaos tourist” who provoked bloodshed by bringing a semi-automatic rifle to a protest and menacing others. Defense attorneys said Rittenhouse acted after being ambushed by a “crazy person” who he feared would take away his gun and use it to kill him.
Rittenhouse's defense attorneys have also made multiple requests for the judge to declare a mistrial. The most recent came Wednesday and was based on a drone video that came into the case late through a convoluted path that led back to Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson and Rittenhouse’s former attorney, John Pierce.
Last week, the defense asked for a mistrial with prejudice, meaning Rittenhouse could not be put on trial again. That request was prompted by what the defense said were improper questions asked by prosecutor Thomas Binger during his cross-examination of Rittenhouse.
Judge Bruce Schroeder had not yet ruled on either motion Thursday. But he warned prosecutors on Wednesday that they could have difficulty because they had relied heavily on evidence now in dispute.
“I think I warned you the other day that you are putting a lot of emphasis on this and if it turns out to be not technically sound, I think I referred to it as (falling like) a house of cards,” Schroeder said.
Jurors began deliberations Tuesday morning in the case that has stirred fierce debate in the U.S. over guns, vigilantism and law and order. They did so after hearing a full day of closing arguments and nine days of witness testimony, including that of 27-year-old Gaige Grosskreutz, the man injured in the shootings.
Rittenhouse was 17 when he came to Kenosha during protests that followed the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white Kenosha police officer. Armed with an AR-15-style rifle and telling people, falsely, that he was an EMT, Rittenhouse joined two friends and a group of armed strangers at the Car Source used car dealership.
In closing arguments, Binger called Rittenhouse a “wannabe soldier” and said Rittenhouse cannot claim self-defense in a situation he provoked. Binger repeatedly showed the jury drone video that he said depicted Rittenhouse pointing the rifle at demonstrators.
He zeroed in on the killing of 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum, the first man killed that night whose shooting set in motion the ones that followed. The prosecutor repeatedly called it murder, saying it was unjustified.
Binger reminded jurors that Rittenhouse testified he knew Rosenbaum was unarmed. He also said there is no video to support the defense claim that Rosenbaum threatened to kill Rittenhouse, disputed the contention that Rosenbaum was trying to grab Rittenhouse’s rifle and said Rittenhouse could have run away instead of shooting.
“There is no evidence that Mr. Rosenbaum was reaching for the defendant’s gun, and after that first shot, Mr. Rosenbaum could not have taken that gun even if he wanted to,” Binger told the jury. “He is already falling to the ground, he is helpless, he is vulnerable, and that kill shot hit him in the back.”
After killing Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse shot and killed Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Grosskreutz while trying to make his way through the crowd. Rittenhouse testified that Huber hit him with a skateboard and that Grosskreutz came at him with a gun of his own — an account largely corroborated by video and Grosskreutz himself, who said he thought Rittenhouse was preparing to shoot him.
The prosecutor said Rittenhouse provoked that bloodshed, too. He said Huber, Grosskreutz and others in the crowd were trying to stop what they believed was an active shooter.
In his own closing argument, defense attorney Richards called Rosenbaum a “crazy person” who was “hell-bent on causing trouble that night” and went after Rittenhouse unprovoked.
“Mr. Rosenbaum was shot because he was chasing my client and going to kill him, take his gun and carry out the threats he made,” Richards said, adding that Rittenhouse never pointed his gun before being chased: “It didn’t happen.”
Richards also criticized the prosecutors’ case, saying Binger had “made it a personal goal of putting my client’s head on his wall.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a political case,” Richards said. “The District Attorney’s Office is marching forward with this case because they need someone to be responsible.”
Richards told the jury that Rittenhouse was privileged to use self-defense under Wisconsin law because he reasonably believed at the time of the shootings that he was in danger of death or great bodily harm.
Binger said the evidence showed the exact opposite. “No reasonable person would have done what the defendant did, and that makes your decision easy. He is guilty of all counts.”
As the verdict neared, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said that 500 National Guard members would be prepared for duty in Kenosha if requested by local law enforcement.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.