Jurors in the Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial are expected to begin deliberations on Tuesday, but will not consider the charge that experts believe would have been more likely to lead to a conviction – a crime of possession of a firearm by minors – because the judge rejected it. .
Rittenhouse shot and killed two men and wounded another on August 25, 2020, after Kenosha broke out in protests against police brutality and showed up with an AR-15-style rifle. He was 17 at the time.
The case quickly became a cornerstone on issues of gun rights and vigilantism in Trump-era politics. The right embraced Rittenhouse as a hero who had gone to Kenosha to help the authorities restore order. The left says he was a provocateur looking for violence.
Twelve jurors will consider a much narrower question: Did he act in self-defense every time he pulled the trigger?
“Defendant causes the incident,” Assistant Dist. Attorney Thomas Binger told jurors in closing discussions Monday, asking them to rethink the video they had seen moments before Rittenhouse shot 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum.
But Rittenhouse’s defense attorney Mark Richards said Rosenbaum was the assailant and that evidence had shown he was “jumping” and “throwing” at the defendant and that his “hand on the gun”.
“This has been a rush to judgment,” Richards said.
Now 18, Rittenhouse, dressed in a blue shirt and tie, occasionally yawned as he listened.
If convicted of first degree murder, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. Other charges against him include first degree manslaughter and first degree security threat.
Until Monday morning, he also faced a felony charge of illegally carrying a weapon – the charge that legal experts had said would be easier to prove. Wisconsin generally prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from owning a gun.
Moments before the closing discussions began, Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed the indictment, ruling that Wisconsin law is unclear and can be interpreted as meaning that 17-year-olds are allowed to openly carry firearms other than rifles at short barrel.
On Monday, cameras lined up a grassy area outside Kenosha County Courthouse. A man paced back and forth carrying a Blue Lives Matter flag.
“Self-defense is not a crime,” he said, refusing to give his name. “Kyle Rittenhouse is innocent.”
A few meters away, another man stood next to a cardboard cutout from Rittenhouse wearing a T-shirt that read “Konvict Killer Kyle”.
“Justice is what we want!” he shouted into a megaphone.
The protests here in August 2020 came after Rusten Sheskey, a white police officer from Kenosha, shot and paralyzed a black man, Jacob Blake, after being called to an apartment complex over a domestic violence dispute. .
Blake, who was holding a knife when he was hit by several bullets, later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor offenses. Sheskey was cleared in an investigation and remains in the department.
Days after the shooting, federal law enforcement and National Guard troops were sent across the city for several weeks to deter the protesters and protect the property.
During the trial, Rittenhouse testified that he went to Kenosha to protect the property and provide medical care.
The courtroom video shows Rosenbaum chasing Rittenhouse through a parking lot before Rittenhouse shoots him.
The second man he killed, 26-year-old Anthony Huber, can be seen swinging a skateboard at his head before attempting to grab Rittenhouse’s rifle. Moments later Rittenhouse fires a single shot that hits 27-year-old Gaige Grosskreutz in the arm. Grosskreutz had a gun.
For more than two weeks, lawyers on both sides of the aisle have called dozens of witnesses. Rittenhouse spoke up, often sobbing as he said he feared for his life. At one point, he said he “didn’t want to have to shoot” Rosenbaum.
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” he said. “I defended myself.”
The process deeply divided Kenosha, a town of 100,000 along the shores of Lake Michigan.
As he watched the trial from his home in Pleasant Prairie, seven miles west of Kenosha, Tim Pinter said he was “disgusted by what Rittenhouse had done”.
However, he said: “I hope he gets away with the worst of allegations.”
“He’s a fool,” said Pinter, 48, a construction company owner and last year spent two nights guarding his subdivision with a semi-automatic rifle, fearing that riots could reach his neighborhood.
Pinter said he understood Rittenhouse’s stated goal of patrolling with a gun to protect the property. What he didn’t understand was why a 17-year-old from another state would come to his hometown.
“He is guilty of misjudgment,” Pinter said. “He put himself in the wrong place at the wrong time with probably the right reasons. But he doesn’t deserve to go to jail for the rest of his life. He has already paid a very high price for what he has done. “
Last year, the malls a few blocks from Pinter’s house were full of barred doors and windows. This week, he said, things looked normal and he had no intention of standing in front of his neighborhood with a gun, regardless of the outcome of the trial.
“His victims were white,” Pinter said. “If they were black, I think things would be different.”
Alvin Owens, owner of a barber shop and community center a few blocks from where the murders took place, said he also saw a racial element in the process and its possible outcome.
“I have no faith in the system,” said Owens, 53, who is black. “The justice system has disappointed our community over and over again.”
“He will be found not guilty. And yes, being white is part of that. If he is found guilty, I don’t think the sentence will be enough, “he said.
He said he thought the judge in the case was biased.
“His phone went off during the trial with the Trump theme,” Owens said, referring to the ringtone for “God Bless the USA,” a Lee Greenwood song that was used by the former president at rallies.
Owens, who was hit by tear gas last year as he marched into rallies after police shot Blake, said he understood why people wanted to come out to protect their communities last summer. To him, Rittenhouse was not one of those people.
“We were all out there protecting ourselves. We just didn’t all have guns. “
With millions of people in the United States watching and reading about events in his hometown, Owens said he hoped people would take something beyond the trial.
“I want people to stop politicizing our city,” he said. “We are not red. We are not blue. We are America. Our demographics, our political collapse, match those of the country in general. We are a great place and we are going through dark times. We want to get through this chapter. “
Lee reported from Kenosha and Kaleem from Los Angeles.