A Wisconsin jury on Friday found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on all charges related to the fatal shootings of two men during a riot in Kenosha last year in a landmark case that captivated, and divided, much of the nation.
The jury returned the verdict after three and a half days of deliberations and a three-week trial that fueled contentious debates on cable television news and confrontations between protesters outside the courtroom. Rittenhouse, now 18, wept as he stood listening to the jury forewoman read through the counts, announcing the panel had found him not guilty on each one.
When the last "not guilty" verdict was read, Rittenhouse, dressed in a blue suit and purple checkered tie, fell to the floor and hugged one of his attorneys. The families of the men he killed, who were sitting nearby, also wept.
The case has been a political lightning rod that challenged the doctrine of self-defense, the right to protest, and the gray areas in between. Rittenhouse was charged in the fatal shootings of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26. He also wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 28, after shooting him in the arm.
"Today's verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered our son," Huber's parents, John Huber and Karen Bloom, said in a statement. "It sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street. We hope that decent people will join us in forcefully rejecting that message and demanding more of our laws, our officials, and our justice system."
The charges that Rittenhouse, a youth cadet from Antioch, Illinois, faced ranged from intentional homicide to recklessly endangering safety and, if found guilty, could have landed him behind bars for the rest of his life.
Prosecutors described Rittenhouse as an inexperienced "wannabe soldier" drawn to chaos, while defense attorneys countered that the onetime YMCA lifeguard feared for his life and was forced to kill or be killed.
"The jury has represented our community in this trial and has spoken," Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger said following the verdict.
Dudley Brown, executive director for the National Foundation for Gun Rights, said the "American justice system worked as designed, and a young man who has been lambasted, defamed, and threatened by the media and the anti-gun Left was declared innocent of all the charges against him."
During closing arguments, attorney Mark Richards said the case against his client was "political" and that Rittenhouse was singled out and used as a scapegoat.
"The district attorney's office is marching forward because they need somebody to be responsible," he said. "They need someone to say, 'He did it, he is the one who brought terror to Kenosha.'"
He accused Binger of being a "liar" who had a "personal goal of putting my client's head on his wall."
Richards also implored jurors to "use common sense" when deliberating.
FIVE MOMENTS IN THE RITTENHOUSE TRIAL THAT COULD SWAY THE JURY
Binger accused Rittenhouse of setting off the deadly chain of events by bringing his rifle to a protest, shooting people, and walking off "like a hero in a Western." He told jurors that Rittenhouse was "looking for trouble" and showed drone footage of him pointing his weapon at several demonstrators.
"This is provocation," he said. "This is what starts this incident. 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."
Rittenhouse found himself in Kenosha on the third night of protests on Aug. 25, 2020, sparked by a white police officer shooting a black man in the back seven times at close range. The protests gave way to riots.
Demonstrators threw water bottles and fireworks at police officers who responded with tear gas that drove the crowd, which had been protesting at Civic Center Park in front of a barricaded Kenosha courthouse, onto the side streets. While most of the peaceful protesters left, a handful of largely armed ones stayed behind. They squared off with other armed people like Rittenhouse and his friends, who claimed to be protecting private property.
Rittenhouse, who was carrying a military-style semi-automatic rifle, was at various times chased and taunted.
Rosenbaum ran after him and threw a plastic bag at the teenager, who responded by shooting him multiple times and running away toward police officers stationed down the street. Several members of the crowd started following Rittenhouse, and in less than three minutes, the teenager had fatally shot two people and grievously injured a third.
Crying on the stand, Rittenhouse testified he hadn't intended on killing anyone but said he was forced to fight his way out.
In an unusual move, Judge Bruce Schroeder allowed Rittenhouse to pick anonymously the 12-member jury that would decide his fate. On Tuesday, Rittenhouse drew numbered slips of paper from a raffle drum that determined which of the 18 potential jurors would render a verdict and which ones would be alternates.
In the end, seven women and five men were picked.
Despite the shootings taking place during a protest on racial inequality, Rittenhouse and the men he shot were all white.
So was the majority of the jury.
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Ahead of the verdict, Kenosha law enforcement officials announced they had improved their response to large events since the riots and said in a statement they "understand and recognize the anxiety surrounding the Kyle Rittenhouse trial."
Last week, Gov. Tony Evers activated 500 Wisconsin National Guard troops to partner with local law enforcement.
"I urge folks who are otherwise not from the area to please respect the community by reconsidering any plans to travel there and encourage those who might choose to assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights to do so safely and peacefully," Evers said.