Kyle Rittenhouse trial verdict: not guilty on all counts

US President Joe Biden urges 'everyone to express their views peacefully'

A Wisconsin jury on Friday acquitted US teenager Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges in a trial that highlighted divisions over gun rights and stirred fierce debate about the boundaries of self-defence in the US.

The jury found Mr Rittenhouse not guilty on charges including two counts of homicide for the deaths of two people, one count of attempted homicide for wounding a third man and two counts of recklessly endangering public safety during racial justice protests marred by arson, rioting and looting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year.

Mr Rittenhouse, dressed in a dark blue suit, stood and cried as the verdict was read before collapsing.

The jury, composed of seven women and five men, had deliberated for about 24 hours over the course of four days.

Defence lawyer Mark Richards said that Mr Rittenhouse immediately left the courthouse following the verdict to return home.

Mr Richards was asked about the defence's strategy to put Mr Rittenhouse on the stand, when the teenager broke down in tears recalling the night of the shootings.

"If you don't put a client on the stand, you're gonna lose," Mr Richards said.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, US President Joe Biden said that the jury's decision must be abided by.

"I stand by what the jury concluded. The jury system works," he said.

In a statement released shortly after, Mr Biden called for peace.

"While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken," Mr Biden said.

Quote
I stand by what the jury concluded. The jury system works
US President Joe Biden

Mr Biden and former president Donald Trump both spoke out on the shooting and Kenosha protests last year during their presidential campaigns, adding to the political undercurrents of the shootings and resulting trial.

Assistant District Attorney Tom Binger, who led the prosecution, said the jury's decision must be respected although it is "disappointing".

"We are grateful to the members of the jury for their diligent and thoughtful deliberations," Mr Binger said in a statement.

"The Kenosha community has endured much in the past 15 months and yet we remain resilient and strong."

Amid a heavy law enforcement presence, several dozen protesters lined the steps outside the courthouse after the verdict was read, some carrying placards in support of Mr Rittenhouse and others expressing disappointment.

On Wednesday, jurors had asked to re-watch a series of videos of the shootings, including drone footage of Mr Rittenhouse firing four times at Joseph Rosenbaum as he charged at the teenager.

In closing arguments, prosecutors said Mr Rittenhouse was a “wannabe soldier” who provoked the “entire incident” that led him to shooting three men — killing two of them — in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during protests that erupted last year after a white police officer shot and wounded Jacob Blake, a black man.

But Mr Rittenhouse’s lawyer countered that he had acted in self-defence after being ambushed.

Mr Rittenhouse was 17 years old on the day of the shootings.

The case stirred fierce debate in the US over guns, vigilantism and law and order.

Views on the trial have largely split along ideological lines, with Mr Rittenhouse considered a hero by some conservatives who favour expansive gun rights, while being seen by many on the political left as a symbol of American gun culture run amok.

Mr Binger zeroed in on the killing of 36-year-old Rosenbaum, who was the first man gunned down that night and whose shooting set in motion those that followed.

The prosecutor repeatedly called it murder, saying it was unjustified, and reminded jurors that Mr Rittenhouse had said he knew Rosenbaum was unarmed.

In his own closing argument, defence lawyer Mark Richards called Rosenbaum a “crazy person” who was “hellbent on causing trouble that night” and went after Mr Rittenhouse unprovoked.

After killing Rosenbaum, Mr Rittenhouse shot and killed Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 28, while trying to make his way through the crowd.

Mr Rittenhouse said that Huber hit him with a skateboard and that Mr Grosskreutz came at him with a gun of his own — an account largely corroborated by video and Mr Grosskreutz himself.

Mr Binger said Huber, Mr Grosskreutz and others in the crowd were trying to stop what they believed was an active shooter.

When it was all over, Rittenhouse walked away like a “hero in a Western — without a care in the world for anything he’s just done”, Mr Binger said.

In his instructions to the jury, the judge had said that to accept Mr Rittenhouse’s claim of self-defence, the jury must find that he believed there was an unlawful threat to him and that the amount of force he used was reasonable and necessary.

This week, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said that 500 National Guard members would be prepared for duty in Kenosha if local law enforcement requested them.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: November 21st 2021, 4:49 AM
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