Kyle Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two men and injured another during a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisc., was acquitted by a jury on Friday.
Both sides wrapped up closing arguments on Monday in a polarizing trial that garnered national and international attention over the issues of gun violence, vigilantism and second-amendment rights.
Read more: Kyle Rittenhouse: Key moments after two-week murder trial nears end
As the “not guilty” verdicts were being read out loud, Rittenhouse began visibly shaking and crying. Once all the verdicts had been read, Rittenhouse fell down and then hugged one of his lawyers.
The trial, which began on Nov. 2 and ran until Nov. 15, saw the prosecution argue that Rittenhouse was the provocateur of violence which led to him shooting and killing two people and injuring a third. The defence argued that Rittenhouse was acting in self-defence to escape a mob chasing him.
Rittenhouse, then 17 years old, traveled to Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020, his lawyer said, to protect property from racial justice protests.
The protests began following the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot seven times in the back by a white Kenosha police officer on Aug. 23 and has been left paralyzed. Rittenhouse and all the victims were white.
The shooting of Blake was the latest police shooting of a Black person in the spring and summer of 2020, which led to social justice protests across the world.
A total of 18 jurors listened to the trial proceedings with 12 ultimately selected randomly to decide Rittenhouse’s verdict. If he were found guilty, Rittenhouse would have faced a mandatory life sentence in prison for first-degree homicide.
Rittenhouse’s lawyers pointed to video evidence that showed 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum chasing him, and said 26-year-old Anthony Huber had attempted to attack him, which led to the two fatal shootings.
The defence also argued that 26-year-old Gaige Grosskreutz was not only carrying a gun but had pointed it at Rittenhouse’s head. They added that Rittenhouse was only in Kenosha to protect local businesses from the damage previous days of protests had caused.
Videos showed Rittenhouse attempting to flee and being chased by a crowd including Rosenbaum, who he first shot and killed. Then Rittenhouse shot and killed Huber, who had swung a skateboard at him. Finally, Grosskreutz is seen on video moving towards Rittenhouse with his hands in the air while holding a gun. Rittenhouse’s team argued that Grosskreutz had pointed the gun in the vicinity of their client before Rittenhouse shot him in the arm.
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Read more: Kyle Rittenhouse: Armed vigilante or civic-minded teen? Jury hears conflicting final arguments
Huber’s parents, Karen Bloom and John Huber, said the verdict, “sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street.”
Rittenhouse family spokesperson David Hancock said, “We are all so very happy that Kyle can live his life as a free and innocent man, but in this whole situation there are no winners, there are two people who lost their lives and that’s not lost on us at all.”
Defense attorney Mark Richards said Rittenhouse wants to “get on with his life.”
“He has a huge sense of relief for what the jury did to him today. He wishes none of this ever happened. But as he said when he testified, he did not start this.”
Richards also said Rittenhouse wants to be a nurse, he is currently in counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder and will probably move away as it’s now “too dangerous” for him to live in his area.
In Rittenhouse’s testimony, the now 18-year-old struggled to get through sentences and broke down crying in front of the jury. On the stand, Rittenhouse reiterated his stance that he was only protecting himself whenever pressed by the prosecution.
The prosecution relied on showcasing Rittenhouse as the aggressor. They noted that it was Rittenhouse who pointed a weapon at a largely unarmed crowd and escalated tensions. The county attorney said Rittenhouse created a sense of fear and intimidation amongst protesters that in turn led them to feel a need to disarm him or face serious consequences. They added that by aiming his AR-15 at people in the crowd, Rittenhouse had effectively lost the right to self-defence.
After the shooting, Rittenhouse was able to walk past a line of police vehicles with his hands up and the AR-15 rifle slung behind his back. He was not arrested that night but turned himself in the next day.
U.S. President Joe Biden called for calm after the verdict was announced.
“While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken,” he said.
“I ran on a promise to bring Americans together, because I believe that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. I know that we’re not going to heal our country’s wounds overnight, but I remain steadfast in my commitment to do everything in my power to ensure that every American is treated equally, with fairness and dignity, under the law.”
Former U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated Rittenhouse in a statement Friday and said, “if that’s not self-defence, nothing is!”
Trump had previously said at the time of the shootings that it appeared Rittenhouse had been “very violently attacked.”
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley have both asked the public to remain calm and accept the verdicts without resorting to violence, though Evers did say last week that 500 National Guards are on standby if the situation turns violent in Kenosha.
Judge Bruce Schroeder, who presided over the Rittenhouse trial, became one of the major talking points throughout the two weeks of proceedings. The veteran judge offered long explanations of his interjections and reasonings of how he arrived at a decision. Another time, Schroeder ordered those in the courtroom to give one of the witnesses, a veteran, a round of applause for their service. And as the jury was being selected, Schroeder allowed Rittenhouse to blindly draw the names of the jurors, which is normally done by the judge.
After the verdict was read, Schroeder complimented the jurors prior to giving them the notice of their obligation to the media.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better jury to work for,” he said. “Without commenting on the verdicts themselves, just in terms of the attentiveness and cooperation you gave to us.”
Schroeder told the jury that there are a number of media requests to speak to jurors but there is no obligation ever to speak about any aspect of the case with anyone. He advised the jury that if they need support or if there are threats of violence, they should get in touch with the court.
“From deep bias routinely and unabashedly displayed by the judge, to apathy of officers who witnessed Rittenhouse’s actions and did nothing,” he said.
With the verdict now final, civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson questions how it may affect future protests in support of Black Americans, saying protesters may now be in more danger.
“It seems to me that it’s open season on human rights demonstrators,” he said.
Read more: Kyle Rittenhouse: Lawyer pushes for mistrial, no verdict after jury deliberates for 2nd day
Some Republicans, though, welcomed the verdict and condemned that the case was ever brought forth.
“All of us who knew what actually happened in Kenosha last year assumed this would be the verdict,” tweeted former Republican Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. “Thankfully, the jury thought the same.”
The National Rifle Association spoke out on Twitter in favour of gun laws.
“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
-With files from the Associated Press, Reuters and Eric Stober