KENOSHA, Wis. (NewsNation Now) — Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty of first-degree intentional homicide and four other charges in connection to fatal shootings in Wisconsin last year.
The jury came back with its verdict after close to 3 1/2 days of deliberation.
Rittenhouse, 18, could have gotten life in prison if found guilty of the most serious charge against him.
He was charged with homicide, attempted homicide and recklessly endangering safety for killing two men and wounding a third with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle.
The shootings took place during a night of protests over police violence against Black people in the tumultuous summer of 2020. Rittenhouse is white, as were those he shot. The jury appeared to be overwhelmingly white.
Unrest erupted in Kenosha in August 2020 over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white Kenosha police officer. Protests following the Blake shooting at times turned violent and destructive, with rioters setting fires and ransacking businesses.
Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, went to Kenosha with an AR-style semi-automatic weapon and a medic bag in what the former police and fire youth cadet said was an effort to protect property.
Just before midnight, Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum as Rosenbaum chased him across a parking lot. As Rittenhouse fled the scene, someone in the crowd tried to kick him in the face and Anthony Huber swung his skateboard at him, connecting with Rittenhouse’s head and neck. Rittenhouse fatally shot Huber. A moment later, Gaige Grosskreutz ran up to him holding a pistol. Rittenhouse shot him in the arm; Grosskreutz survived.
Prosecutors portrayed Rittenhouse as the instigator of the three shootings, while his lawyer said Rittenhouse acted in self-defense.
Angela Cenedella, a lawyer and legal analyst, told NewsNation the prosecution needed to prove Rittenhouse did not have a right to self-defense in this scenario, and his acquittal means the jury didn’t buy it.
“Generally acquittals tend to come earlier, and the longer juries deliberate it’s generally not so good for the defendant,” Cenedella said on NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” on Friday.
The case divided Americans over whether Rittenhouse was a patriot taking a stand against lawlessness or a vigilante.
The verdict came after a dramatic trial that saw the defense demand a mistrial over what they argued were out-of-bounds questions asked of Rittenhouse by the chief prosecutor. The two weeks of testimony ended as Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed a count of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18, a misdemeanor that had appeared to be among the likeliest of the charges to net a conviction. It carries up to nine months in jail.
The defense argued that Wisconsin law has an exception related to the length of a weapon’s barrel. After prosecutors conceded Rittenhouse’s rifle was not short-barreled, the judge threw out the charge.
In a gamble, Rittenhouse testified at his trial, saying: “I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself,” sobbing on the stand so hard at one point that the judge called a break. Prosecutors in turn tried to paint him as an inexperienced teenager who misrepresented his age and medical training to other armed civilians in his group on the night of the shootings.