KENOSHA, Wis. —The jury in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial heard competing narratives Mondayas the prosecution and defense laid out closing arguments over whether the teen should be held liable for killing two people and injuring a third during protests in Kenosha, Wis., last year – a case that has riled racial and political tensions across the U.S.
At the start of the day, Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed a misdemeanor charge Rittenhouse faced over whether he was a minor in possession of a firearm illegally. The defense argued the charge couldn’t apply because of what they said is an exception in the law. The prosecution objected, but the judge sided with the defense’s interpretation.
The trial, which began Nov. 1, featured eight days of testimony from about 30 witnesses and more than a dozen videos from the night of Aug. 25, 2020, when then-17-year-old Rittenhouse fatally shot two men and wounded a third during a violent protest.
After hearing closing arguments, the 12-member jury panel will deliberate Rittenhouse’s future – meaning a verdict could be close.
The prosecution has painted Rittenhouse as a tourist vigilante from Illinois, armed with bad judgment and a rifle he couldn’t legally possess, looking for righteous vengeance against anti-police rioters.
His defense attorneys say he was essentially a Kenoshan, driven by a youthful sense of patriotism to protect and defend his community, forced to kill two protesters and wound a third to save his own life.
The shooting occurred days after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, multiple times in the back, leading to several nights of social unrest, looting and arson last year in Kenosha.
In anticipation of a verdict, Gov. Tony Evers said he was sending about 500 Wisconsin National Guard troops to the Kenosha area to be on standby to help “hundreds of officers from volunteering law enforcement agencies” if needed, according to his office.
Rittenhouse, now 18, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the killing of Anthony Huber, 26; first-degree reckless homicide in the killing of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36; and attempted first-degree intentional homicide in the shooting of Gaige Grosskreutz, 28.
He also faces two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment for shooting at an unidentified man, and in the direction of Richard McGinniss, a videographer who was in the line of fire when Rittenhouse fired four rounds at Rosenbaum in less than a second.
Prosecution closing: Rittenhouse had no remorse
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger summarized the case against Rittenhouse as a 17-year-old out after a curfew and someone who did not genuinely want to protect property or help others the night of the shooting. Binger said Rittenhouse held no remorse or concern for those he shot and those he killed, depicting him and others strapped with AR-15 styled rifles as “wannabe soldiers acting tough.”
“We shouldn’t have 17-year-olds running around our streets with AR-15s because this is exactly what happens,” Binger said.
Binger, at times, depicted Rittenhouse as a liar. He repeated that Rittenhouse lied about being an EMT, despite repeatedly telling those in the crowd and a member of the media he was a certified EMT as he carried a medic bag on the streets of Kenosha that night.
Rittenhouse was a member of a cadet program that included firefighter and EMT training. Binger said Rittenhouse’s lies cast doubt on the claim by witnesses that Rosenbaum threatened Rittenhouse, something he noted wasn’t caught on video despite footage chronicling most of the evening.
Binger said Rittenhouse instigated the incident that led to the shootings by raising his rifle before Rosenbaum began to chase him, which the defense has disputed.
Binger said by provoking the attack, Rittenhouse has lost his right to self-defense.He said the crowd protesting that night was “full of heroes” who sought to stop what they believed to be an active shooter after Rosenbaum was shot. Binger said those in the crowd had every right to use force to stop Rittenhouse.
Binger relied on video of the shootings and even used Rittenhouse rifle’s to show jurors what happened that evening.
In the killing of Rosenbaum, Binger said a bullet to the back was the fatal one, but Rittenhouse could have stopped after the first, which hit Rosenbaum’s pelvis and caused him to fall, if he truly feared for his life.
“The defendant decided to pull the trigger on his AR-15 on his four times. That was his decision. And he is responsible for every bullet that comes out of his gun. He doesn’t get a pass by pulling the trigger fast,” Binger said.
He also urged jurors not to think that property damage or looting was justification for the shootings even if they did not agree with such acts.
“What you don’t get to do is kill someone on the street for committing arson,” Binger said.
Rittenhouse defense: Kyle was there to ‘help’ community
Rittenhouse’s attorneys team laid out his self-defense argument in their closing arguments, summarizing the days of testimony to depict the teen as someone who wanted to “help the community” amid the violent protests.
His attorney, Mark Richards, said the first killing happened that night because “Mr. Rosenbaum was shot because he was chasing my client and going to kill him.” The subsequent shootings happened as Rittenhouse was running toward police, Richards argued, saying Rittenhouse was attacked by a “mob” and had no choice but to defend himself by opening fire again.
“Kyle was not an active shooter. That is a buzzword that the state wants to latch on to because it excuses the actions of that mob,” Richards said. “He reacted to people attacking him.”
Richards argued the crowd aimed to get “their licks in on Kyle Rittenhouse – or as they perceived him – somebody from the other side who has been putting out their fires, causing problems for them, stopping them from wreaking havoc in Kenosha.”
He continued by casting the case against Rittenhouse as a “rush to judgment” with “shoddy” police work.
“They (prosecutors) want it to be that Kyle was out there doing something improper. Kyle was a 17-year-old kid out there trying to help this community.”
Judge reads lengthy jury instructions, dismisses misdemeanor weapon charge
Schroeder instructed the jury Monday about the elements of the various offenses charged, and options to find Rittenhouse guilty of some lesser versions of the crimes originally charged.
Schroeder paused the instructions at least twice, at one point for an extended period to conference with the attorneys and send the jury out of the room.
Schroeder said he was worried the instructions didn’t make clear when the jury should consider the lesser included charges but later brought the jurors back in to continue the reading of the instructions.
More on the lesser charges:Rittenhouse jury will consider some lesser charges in fatal shootings. Here’s what that means.
Since Rittenhouse has raised self-defense, the critical question jurors will decide is whether his decision to use deadly force was reasonable.
Because so much video, most of it already seen multiple times, will be played again in the closing arguments, Schroeder reluctantly agreed to give each side up to 2½ hours to complete their arguments, and in the case of the prosecution, its rebuttal.
Twenty jurors – including eight alternates – were chosen after one day of questioning, dismissals for cause and peremptory strikes by the lawyers. One man was dismissed the first week for telling a sheriff’s deputy a joke about the shooting of Blake.
A woman later was excused after she said she was having complications related to her pregnancy. The remaining six alternates will be chosen randomly before the final 12 begin deliberating the case.
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The misdemeanor gun charge appeared likely to lead to a conviction, given Rittenhouse’s age. But his lawyers argued Wisconsin law included an exception for rifles or shotguns that are not short-barreled. Prosecutors said they believed the charge was still applicable, but they conceded the gun used was not short-barreled, which led to Schroeder dismissing the charge.
Rittenhouse also took the stand during the trial and broke down as his lawyers asked him about the events leading up to the shootings. The prosecution pressed him on many of the details of the night and the risks he perceived at the time.
During the cross-examination, Rittenhouse’s lawyers also took exception to some of the state’s questions, leading to a motion for a mistrial with prejudice, on which Schroeder did not rule.
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What happened the night of the shootings?
Rittenhouse lived in Antioch, Illinois, about 20 miles from Kenosha, when he and Dominick Black, a close friend who lived in the city, went downtown the morning of Aug. 25 to view the damage done during demonstrations the prior two nights. Rittenhouse said he met the owners of a car business that had been destroyed by arson.
That same day, the owners had asked Nicholas Smith, a former employee who lived nearby, if he could help watch over the business’s two other locations that night.
Smith asked Black and Rittenhouse if they’d like to help, and they returned later that night, armed with AR-15 style rifles. Black had bought Rittenhouse’s for him in May because Rittenhouse was underage. They kept the rifle at Black’s house in Kenosha.
The trio and about five others spent most of the night at a repair shop.
Later in the evening when he was separated from the group, Rittenhouse encountered Rosenbaum, seen by many witnesses that night acting aggressively toward armed people who were trying to put out fires and stop property damage.
After running briefly from Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse turned and shot him between some cars. As angry onlookers converged, Rittenhouse began running away north on Sheridan Road. About halfway back to the police line, he stumbled and fell to the street.
He fired four more shots – two at the man who kicked him in the face, one at Huber who had struck him with his skateboard and tried to take his gun, and once at Grosskreutz, a volunteer medic at protests who ran up on Rittenhouse while holding a pistol.
The defense tried to portray Rosenbaum – who suffered from bipolar disorder – as the catalyst to the night’s violence. Some witnesses said he had threatened to kill Rittenhouse if he caught him alone.
The prosecution emphasized that no one else considered Rosenbaum – who was unarmed but for a brief time he was seen carrying a chain – as a threat, and none of many video’s captured the specific threats of violence some witnesses said they heard.
According to the state, Rittenhouse was pursuing Rosenbaum first, before the older man ran at the armed defendant.
In his opening statement, Binger told jurors the evidence would show Rittenhouse did not act reasonably and repeated several times that despite the admitted chaos of the night, no one but Rittenhouse shot anyone.
Contributing: Molly Beck, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel