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Rittenhouse found not guilty on all counts in Kenosha protest shootings

The teenager has become a symbol of Second Amendment firearm freedoms, self-defense and private property rights for many on the right

A jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse of murder on Friday, finding the 18-year-old’s actions on the night last year when he killed two and injured a third with an AR-15 during a chaotic Kenosha, Wisconsin, protest did not live up to the most serious charge he faced.

Prosecutors charged Rittenhouse with first-degree reckless homicide for killing Joseph Rosenbaum, 36; first-degree intentional homicide for killing Anthony Huber, 26; and first-degree attempted intentional homicide for injuring Gaige Grosskreutz, 28. They also charged him with two counts of reckless endangerment for firing two shots at an unknown man who kicked him while he was on the ground and for pointing his gun in the direction of Richie McGinniss, a videographer for the Daily Caller in the line of fire when Rosenbaum was shot.

Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder—who has drawn criticism for some of his actions during the trial—last week dismissed Rittenhouse’s citation for violating an emergency curfew on the night of the shootings. He followed that up on Monday by tossing the gun charge Rittenhouse faced for being underage while publicly carrying the AR-15 he used in the shootings, agreeing with the defense that a confusingly worded Wisconsin gun law allowed Rittenhouse, then 17, to possess the AR-15 in public because it is not a short-barreled rifle or shotgun.

At prosecutors’ request, lesser-included offenses like second-degree homicide were included in the jury instructions given Monday, as well as instructions as to how the lesser charges fit with Rittenhouse’s self-defense privilege.

Rittenhouse was in Kenosha on the morning of Aug. 25, 2020, with his friend Dominick Black after the two spent the night at Black’s Kenosha home. He lived at the time with his mom and two sisters in nearby Antioch, Illinois, and worked as a lifeguard at a rec center in the Kenosha area.

That morning, the two cleaned graffiti from the onset of several days of protests that erupted in the small southeastern Wisconsin city after Jacob Blake, a then-29-year-old Black man, was shot seven times by a white Kenosha police officer responding to a domestic disturbance.

The initial days of unrest in Kenosha in August of 2020 turned violent and volatile at night, resulting in riotous clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement and the damage and arson of dozens of cars and businesses.

When Black and Rittenhouse returned armed on the night of Aug. 25, they planned to protect three used car dealership properties from damage. Rittenhouse also planned to provide first aid to those in need, though he lied to multiple people about being a certified EMT.

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Black, then 19, bought Rittenhouse the AR-15 he carried because Rittenhouse could not do so legally. They kept the gun at Black’s house in Wisconsin because Rittenhouse could not legally take it back to Illinois.

At first guarding the dealerships with other similarly armed individuals, many who came to the unrest from out of town, Rittenhouse got separated from the group just before midnight and found himself alone in conflict with Rosenbaum. He shot Huber and Grosskreutz from the ground while tussling with protesters trying to stop his run toward a police line after shooting Rosenbaum, who Rittenhouse testified chased and threatened to kill him.

Huber hit Rittenhouse with a skateboard and tried to take his gun before he was shot. Grosskreutz, a paramedic EMT, had in his hand a pistol for which his concealed carry license was expired. Rosenbaum was unarmed.

Rittenhouse tried to surrender himself to local police in the street after the last shooting, but officers pepper sprayed him and told him to go home. Accompanied by his mother, he turned himself in at the Antioch police station just after 1 a.m. on Aug. 26.

Few trials, if any, in Wisconsin history have attracted scrutiny and inspired opposing partisan passions like Rittenhouse’s. The teenager has become a symbol of Second Amendment firearm freedoms, self-defense and private property rights for some on the right. Some on the left condemn Rittenhouse as a wannabe militia-style vigilante who had no business arming himself and playing patriot at a tinderbox protest in a community where he does not live.

Conservatives who flocked to Rittenhouse’s cause raised his $2 million bail by November of last year. This was accomplished partially through fundraising efforts by the right-wing #FightBack Foundation, headed by prominent Atlanta defamation attorney L. Lin Wood, who was part of Rittenhouse’s early defense team with Los Angeles civil attorney John Pierce. Disputes between fundraisers have since simmered over who should get the bond money once Rittenhouse’s trial concludes.

Although Rittenhouse and all three shooting victims are white, issues of race in criminal justice have become part of the debate over the case. The shootings occurred at demonstrations sparked by the shooting of a Black man by a white police officer, and both events took place during a summer of widespread, sometimes destructive protests indicting racist police brutality inspired by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on Memorial Day last year.

No charges were filed against the officers involved in Blake’s shooting, as Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley did not feel any prosecution could overcome the officers’ self-defense rights, in part because Blake was armed with a knife when he was tased and shot, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

Kenosha residents and business owners braced for more protests and property damage in reaction to Graveley’s charging decision, but protests were peaceful, and no reports of violence materialized.

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers last Friday authorized 500 state National Guard troops for active duty to support Kenosha law enforcement, one day after testimony wrapped in the Rittenhouse trial.

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Sean Krajacic/The Kenosha News/AP pool

Kyle Rittenhouse looks back as attorneys discuss items in a motion for mistrial presented by his defense at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021.