KENOSHA, WISCONSIN – : Kyle Rittenhouse listens as his attorneys speak to the judge during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse on November 2, 2021. (Photo by Sean Krajacic -Pool/Getty Images)
In Monday’s closing arguments in the trial of 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, the key question before the jury was whether Rittenhouse, who shot two people and wounded a third, was acting in self-defense. In Wisconsin, a person can’t use deadly force unless the person “reasonably believes he or she has exhausted every other reasonable means to escape from or otherwise avoid death or great bodily harm at the hands of his or her assailant.”
The judge chose to dismiss the charge most likely to result in a conviction for Rittenhouse — possessing a dangerous weapon as a minor— on Monday, minutes before closing arguments began, reversing an earlier decision not to grant the defense’s request that the charge be dropped.
Rittenhouse was 17 years old when he carried an AR-style semi-automatic rifle on the streets of Kenosha in August 2020 and used it to kill two people and wound a third. But the defense argued that Wisconsin statutes include an exception for a long-barreled rifle or shotgun of the type used by hunters. After prosecutors conceded in court Monday that Rittenhouse did not use a short-barreled rifle, Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed the charge.
Schroeder’s decisions and rulings have been under a microscope throughout the trial, starting with his ruling that attorneys should not refer to the people Rittenhouse shot as “victims” and his frequent chastising of prosecutor Thomas Binger. The case boils down to Wisconsin’s standards for self-defense and the circumstances surrounding the shooting. In short, as Binger put it, the jury is there to decide “does he get a pass?”
Rittenhouse traveled to Kenosha during the unrest triggered by the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha police officer. Protests and demonstrations occurred during the day, followed by property damage and arson in the city at night. Rittenhouse arrived with dozens of others to join armed groups patrolling neighborhoods and guarding private property throughout the city. Although the then-17-year-old told many that he was an EMT and medic, he wasn’t certified or trained in first aid. Rittenhouse was also photographed cleaning off graffiti sprayed on a government building.
By the time Rittenhouse attempted to surrender to police in Kenosha, who then allowed him to leave the scene, three people had been shot. Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, was shot first, followed by Anthony Huber, 26, and Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, two blocks away. Huber, Grosskreutz and another unidentified individual, dubbed “jump-kick man” were shot at close range in what the prosecution asserts were attempts to disarm an active shooter. However, defense attorney Mark Richards attacked the label calling it “loaded.” Richards further argued that Rossenbaum was shot after verbally threatening Rittenhouse and chasing him. The prosecution, however, highlighted that the specific threat Rittenhouse’s defense attributed to Rosenbaum was not recorded.
The prosecution paid particular attention to Rittenhouse’s actions leading up to the shootings. While positioned outside a car lot, which his lawyers say he was invited to protect, Rittenhouse and his group were approached by protesters. Some of the marchers accused the armed group of shining green laser pointers from a distance at marchers. Richards said that the rifle Rittenhouse was armed with lacked any kind of laser. After suspected protesters were driven away from the lot by police, Rittenhouse walked around the area. Despite offering groups of protesters medical attention, the 17-year-old was not a certified or trained in emergency medical aid as he’d claimed. The prosecution argued that Rittenhouse, after receiving water and praise from officers in an armored vehicle, felt emboldened to act out as a self-appointed protector of the city. Prosecutors argued that Rittenhouse provoked confrontation by allegedly pointing his rifle at individuals, and then shooting Rosenbaum and others and that his actions are not justified by self-defense.
His defense leaned heavily on character attacks of the people shot by Rittenhouse. He attacked the credibility of Grosskreutz claiming that he was “bought, paid for and protected,” as the state’s star witness. Whereas Rittenhouse’s phone was searched by law enforcement, Richards criticized Grosskreutz for taking his attorney’s advice and not consenting to a full download of his phone.
Richards said that there’s no evidence of connections to militia or white supremacist groups in Rittenhouse’s phone. By contrast, Richards pointed out that Grosskreutz had participated in protests organized by The People’s Revolution, a group of Black Lives Matter demonstrators. Richards further cast doubt on video evidence presented by the prosecution, calling video footage “hokus pokus out of focus.” Richards asserted that Rittenhouse had connections to the Kenosha community; Binger pointed out that he didn’t know the city well enough to find his way back to the car lot where he had initially been positioned.
After hearing closing arguments, the jury began deliberations. The National Guard remains on standby until the jury returns with a verdict.
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