A Wisconsin jury on Friday found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty in the fatal shooting of two men during protests in Kenosha last year, capping a trial that touched on issues of gun rights and race.
Rittenhouse, 18, from nearby Antioch, Illinois, was cleared on all five charges related to his actions on Aug. 25 last year, during protests over the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white Kenosha police officer.
Rittenhouse was charged with reckless homicide in the slaying of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and intentional homicide in the death of Anthony Huber, 26. He also faced a charge of attempted intentional homicide for severely wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, a 27-year-old paramedic from suburban Milwaukee who was there that night volunteering his medical services, and two counts of recklessly endangering safety.
Rittenhouse, in a dark suit and burgundy shirt, was overcome with emotion when the fifth not guilty verdict was read in court.
He doubled over and then hugged defense attorney Corey Chirafisi, who had to tell his client to relax and breathe.
Fellow defense attorney Mark Richards joyously hit his hand on the table as the first not guilty verdict was read, while prosecutors looked down as the jurors’ findings were announced.
Families of those shot and killed held hands in court and cried as the verdicts were read.
The jury was comprised of seven women and five men.
After three and a half days of deliberations, some in the panel appeared fatigued in the jury box. As the verdicts were read, some had their hands on their chins, rubbed their eyes and appeared ill-at-ease, shifting in their chairs or folding their arms across their chests.
Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder thanked jurors for their work.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better jury to work with,” said Schroeder. “It’s truly been my pleasure … just in terms of your attentiveness and the cooperation that you gave to us.”
The judge told jurors the system worked.
“It justifies the confidence that the founders of our country placed in you,” Schroeder said.
The Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office asked community members to “continue to express their opinions and feelings about this verdict in a civil and peaceful manner.”
“While we are disappointed with the verdict, it must be respected,” the office said in a statement. “We are grateful to the members of the jury for their diligent and thoughtful deliberations. The Kenosha community has endured much over the past 15 months, and yet we remain resilient and strong.”
The trial drew national attention, focusing on issues of gun rights and race.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers pleaded for calm before the verdict but deployed 500 National Guard in anticipation of post-verdict protests.
Anthony Huber’s parents issued a lengthy statement, saying they were disappointed.
“Today’s verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered our son,” they said.
“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.”
Jacob Blake was paralyzed from the waist down in the shooting that led to days of at times violent protests in Kenosha and across the country.
Rittenhouse and other armed men said they went to Kenosha to protect private property during the protest.
Huber and Rosenbaum were not armed when Rittenhouse shot them, but Grosskreutz came toward him with a pistol in hand when Rittenhouse opened fire.
Rittenhouse also attempted to shoot an unknown person, known in court as “jump kick man,” who tried kicking the defendant in the face, and prosecutors said Rittenhouse could have wounded another man when he opened fire on Rosenbaum.
Rittenhouse testified in his own defense last week and said all the shootings were acts of self-defense.
NBC legal analyst Danny Cevallos said the law was always in the defense’s favor, because of the burden prosecutors faced in fighting the self-defense argument.
“It’s not so much that it was a poor prosecution, but really poor facts for the prosecution,” Cevallos said. “In Wisconsin, the prosecution had to disprove self-defense in all the elements or any one of them beyond a reasonable doubt in addition to proving their case.”
Former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance said evidence that Grosskreutz had a gun in is hand when he was shot by Rittenhouse played a key role in the acquittals.
“He essentially, on cross-examination, conceded self-defense talking about the fact that there was a gun in his hand,” Vance said. “The prosecution tried to argue their way out of that situation. But I think the die was cast in a significant way at that point.”