Written By Bruce C.T. Wright
The white teenager accused of murdering two people and injuring another in Wisconsin at a protest last year stemming from the police shooting of a Black man has been found not guilty on all counts in a high-profile trial that has repeatedly revolved around the topic of race.
A jury deciding the fate of Kyle Rittenhouse delivered its verdict on Friday agreed that the then-17-year-old was simply defending himself from people in the Milwaukee suburb of Kenosha who the trial’s judge ruled could not be called “victims” in court despite graphic video evidence to the contrary. The panel of Rittenhouse’s peers that was “overwhelmingly white” reached its verdict after more than 24 hours of deliberating after the prosecution and defense made their closing arguments on Monday afternoon to conclude a trial that lasted just over two weeks.
Rittenhouse, now 18, collapsed in apparent relief after hearing the fifth and final count of the verdict as audible gasps and sobbing could be heard from others in attendance. After Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce E. Schroeder said all charges were being dismissed with prejudice and announced the official end of the trial, Rittenhouse walked quickly out of the courtoom.
This is a developing story that will be updated as additional information is available.
Defense attorneys argued multiple motions for acquittal throughout the trial, including an 11th-hour attempt after closing arguments based on allegations the prosecution withheld drone footage of the shootings Kenosha shootings from the defense.
The case revolved around a fine blend of white vigilantism, legal double standards along racial lines when it comes to self-defense and an apparent referendum on racial justice protests as critics connected the sympathetic dots of Rittenhouse’s lenient treatment by the criminal justice system since the fateful night of Aug. 25, 2020, when he killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha, and Anthony Huber, 26, of Silver Lake, Wisconsin, and shot Gaige Grosskreutz, now 27, of West Allis, Wisconsin, the sole survivor from the vigilante shootings.
All three have been described as activists in their own rights who joined in the demonstrations against local police for shooting Jacob Blake seven times at close range in the back, paralyzing the unarmed Black man from the waist down two days before Rittenhouse, who traveled to Kenosha from his native Illinois, unleashed his shooting spree on Grosskreutz, Huber and Rosenbaum.
Rittenhouse, who has been described as a “wannabe cop,” has maintained his innocence and claims he was ambushed.
He was arrested on Aug. 26, 2020, and ultimately charged with five felony counts and one misdemeanor: first-degree reckless homicide for killing Rosenbaum; first-degree recklessly endangering safety for firing his gun toward two people, including Richard McGiniss, who testified as a witness at the trial; first-degree intentional homicide for killing Huber; attempted first-degree homicide for shooting Grosskreutz; use of a dangerous weapon; and the misdemeanor of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18.
Rittenhouse was facing a sentence of life in prison before the verdict was delivered.
Here’s a glimpse of some of the more pivotal moments in Rittenhojse’s murder trial.
In an effort to pierce the veil of so-called reasonable white fear, Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger framed Rittenhouse’s actions as those of a provocateur instigating violence. Rejecting the idea that Rittenhouse feared for his life or had to act in self-defense, Binger walked through the various reckless decisions taken by the young gunman.
“You cannot hide behind self-defense if you provoked the incident,” Binger said during the prosecution’s closing. “If you created the danger, you forfeit the right to self-defense. By bringing that gun, aiming it at people, threatening people’s lives, the defendant provoked everything.”
Binger explained that self-defense requires Rittenhouse to do more than turn and shoot as a first response.
Conversely, Rittenhouse’s lawyers in their closing arguments alleged a rush to judgment in the case and suggested the police may have been under pressure to arrest the teenager after his deadly shooting spree.
Rittenhouse took the stand to testify in his own defense last week during which he openly cried on the stand, prompting critics to suggest he produced the type of crocodile tears that could sway a jury to take a more merciful approach to returning a verdict for a white teenager, in particular. Even though he was heavily armed with an assault rifle, Rittenhouse testified under oath that he “was never trying to kill” anyone. Reacting to Rittenhouse breaking down crying and the court calling a subsequent recess, NewsOne’s Zack Linly described the histrionics as a “D-list-level dry-blubbering performance.” Linly was far from alone in that sentiment.
A series of pretrial rulings made by Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce E. Schroeder prompted suspicions of bias toward Rittenhouse; speculation that only grew as the trial progressed.
That was especially true on Monday when Schroeder dismissed the count of illegal possession of a dangerous weapon by a person younger than 18 because of “an exception in the law dealing with hunting, the age of the defendant and the length of the barrel for dismissing the count,” NBC News reported. Prior to that ruling, prosecutors viewed the now-dismissed count — a misdemeanor that could net as many as nine months in jail — as one of the stronger charges
During the final court hearing before the trial began, Schroeder ruled the people who Rittenhouse gunned down in a street can’t be referred to as “victims.” However, Schroeder did allow the two deceased men to be “referred to as rioters, looters or arsonists or other pejorative terms,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported at the time.
Schroeder also ruled during that same hearing that only the defense can refer to Rittenhouse by his first name during the trial. Schroeder said he typically makes the court refer to adults by their last name. Rittenhouse has since turned 18 years old is an adult for all intents and purposes — except in Schroeder’s courtroom.
Earlier this year, Schroeder extended more sympathetic treatment to Rittenhouse that defy legal standards by inexplicably ruling that the teenager did not violate the terms of his bond by concealing his address from the court. Thus, demands by a prosecutor to increase Rittenhouse’s bond and issue a warrant for his arrest were denied. Schroeder said during the February hearing that he didn’t think doing so would be lawful.
At the time, Rittenhouse’s exact location was unclear after a court notice sent to his home address in Illinois was returned by new residents there. Rittenhouse had been using a PO Box, instead. The terms of his bond mandated he reside at the address with which he provided the court.
“We don’t know where an accused murderer is at,” Binger said at the time. “I think that’s a problem. I’m not OK with that.”
That prompted Schroeder to throw Rittenhouse a bone and rule he must disclose his current address to every local law enforcement agency involved except for the Kenosha Assistant District Attorney’s office. Binger said that ruling ran counter to legal precedent, but Schroeder said Rittenhouse did not commit a serious crime when violating the terms of his bond and was present at every court appearance and abided by all other conditions imposed upon him.
Schroeder dismissed a juror on the third day of jury selection because they told a joke to the courtroom deputy about the police shooting of Jacob Blake, the very event that prompted Rittenhouse and his victims to have their fateful encounter last year in Kenosha.
“Why did the Kenosha police shoot Jacob Blake 7-times?” the dismissed juror reportedly said before delivering a heartless punchline: “Because they ran out of bullets.”
The fact that the juror was even appointed to the panel despite the implicit pro-police bias he harbors invited speculation about the personal feelings of the other jurors, all of whom are white except for one person.
This article originally appeared on NewsOne
Bruce C.T. Wright, Managing Editor
Bruce is based in New York City and mainly covers politics, culture, race and criminal justice. He previously worked at the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Boston Globe’s Boston.com, where he was a part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that covered the Boston Marathon bombing and manhunt. Follow him @ BCTW on social media.