American teenager Kyle Rittenhouse acquitted of all charges after controversial murder trial
Kenosha, Wisconsin – A jury acquitted teenager Kyle Rittenhouse on Friday of the murder of two men shot dead during racial justice protests in a ruling that sparked a heated debate over gun rights and the limits of self-defense to United States.
Jurors declared Rittenhouse, 18, not guilty of all counts: two counts of homicide, one count of attempted homicide for injuring a third man and two counts of recklessly endangering security during protests marred by arson, riots and looting on August 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Rittenhouse collapsed sobbing after the verdict and collapsed on the floor before being helped to get back into his chair, his hands shaking. Her mother was crying too.
Amid a heavy law enforcement presence, dozens of protesters lined the steps outside the courthouse after the verdict was read, some carrying signs supporting Rittenhouse and others expressing disappointment .
“We are all very happy that Kyle can live his life as a free and innocent man, but in this whole situation there are no winners, there are two people who lost their lives and it is not lost at all to us, “David Hancock, a spokesperson for the Rittenhouse family, told Reuters.
Rittenhouse shot Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and fired a bullet that tore off a piece of the arm of Gaige Grosskreutz, 28. Rittenhouse claimed self-defense.
US President Joe Biden, who during last year’s election campaign tweeted a video that appeared to link Rittenhouse to white supremacists, said on Friday he supported the jury’s decision and urged Americans to react calmly.
“While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans angry and worried, including me, we have to recognize that the jury has spoken,” Biden said.
Elsewhere, reactions showed the country’s deep partisan divisions. The verdict was greeted with indignation by many on the political left and celebrated by supporters of gun rights.
“It is unreasonable that our justice system allows an armed vigilante (…) to free himself,” the Congressional Black Caucus said in a statement.
The thorny question of race loomed over the case as well, although Rittenhouse and the men he shot were all white. Some black activists said on Friday that US police and courts would have treated the teenager more harshly if he had been black.
But conservatives saw the verdict as validation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which grants Americans the right to bear arms.
US Representative Madison Cawthorn, a Republican Representative from North Carolina, said on Instagram, “Kyle Rittenhouse is not guilty my friends. You have the right to defend yourself. Be armed, be dangerous and be moral.
In delivering their verdict after more than three days of deliberation, the jury faced dueling accounts from the defense and prosecution that offered very different portrayals of the teenager’s actions on the night of the shooting.
The defense argued that Rittenhouse had been attacked several times and shot the men out of fear for his life. They said he was a civic-minded teenager who carried a medical kit in addition to his gun and was in Kenosha to protect private property after several nights of unrest in the town south of Milwaukee.
The violence followed police shooting a black man named Jacob Blake, who was left paralyzed from waist to toe.
The prosecution described Rittenhouse as a reckless vigilante who caused the violent encounters and showed no remorse for the men he shot down with his AR-15 type rifle.
Wisconsin criminal defense attorney Daniel Adams, who has been following the trial closely, called the verdict “very dramatic but not entirely surprising.”
Most of the lawyers “who reviewed the evidence felt that the state would not be able to cross the threshold of rebutting self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
Broadcast live and dissected daily by cable television experts, the trial took place at a time of social and political polarization in the United States. Gun rights are cherished by many Americans and are enshrined in the United States Constitution even as the nation experiences high rates of gun violence and easy access to guns.
Rittenhouse, who has testified that he has no choice but to open fire to protect himself, is viewed as heroic by some pro-gun conservatives who see the shootings as justified. Many on the left see Rittenhouse as a vigilante and an embodiment of an out of control American gun culture.
Protests against racism and police brutality turned violent in many American cities after the police murder of black man George Floyd in Minneapolis three months before the Kenosha shooting.
Rittenhouse’s verdict ended the most high-profile U.S. civil self-defense case since George Zimmerman was acquitted in the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2013.
With much of that night in Kenosha filmed on a cell phone and surveillance video, few basic facts were in dispute. Rather, the trial focused on whether Rittenhouse acted reasonably to prevent “imminent death or grievous bodily harm,” the requirement to use lethal force under Wisconsin law.
The prosecution, led by Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, sought to portray Rittenhouse as the assailant and repeatedly pointed out that he was the only one who killed someone that night.
Rittenhouse’s weapon was loaded with 30 full-metal bullet cartridges designed to penetrate their target. The jury saw a series of graphic videos, including the moments after Rittenhouse fired four bullets at Rosenbaum, who was lying motionless, bleeding and moaning. Another video showed Grosskreutz screaming, blood spurting from his arm.
Rittenhouse testified in his own defense last Wednesday at the most dramatic moment in the trial – a risky move by his lawyers given his youth and the prospect of a difficult cross-examination. Rittenhouse collapsed sobbing at one point and pointed out that he had acted out of fear for his life.
“I did what I had to do to stop the person attacking me,” he said.
His defense attorney, Mark Richards, said Rittenhouse had difficulty sleeping at night and was being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. He said the defense team decided to have him testify after testing two versions of their case in mock juries, one with him testifying and one without.
“It was definitely better when we put it on,” Richards told reporters after the verdict. “In Wisconsin, if you don’t put a customer at the helm, you’re going to lose. Period.”
Rittenhouse testified that he shot Huber after hitting him with a skateboard and shooting his gun. He said he shot Grosskreutz after the man pointed the pistol he was carrying – a claim Grosskreutz acknowledged during questioning by the defense. Rittenhouse testified that he shot Rosenbaum after the man chased him down and grabbed his gun.
Huber’s parents Karen Bloom and John Huber said in a statement that they were heartbroken by the verdict. “It sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any city, incite violence, and then use the danger they created to justify shooting people in the streets.”
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