Kyle Rittenhouse Found Not Guilty of All Charges in Fatal Shooting of 2 Men At Black Lives Matter Protest

Kyle Rittenhouse, then 17, was accused of homicide for using an AR-style rifle to kill two people during a protest over police brutality in Kenosha, Wis., last year

Jurors embraced the claim that Kyle Rittenhouse was defending himself when he fatally shot two men and injured a third last year, clearing him of homicide Friday along with all related charges that included recklessly brandishing a dangerous weapon during a Black Lives Matter protest over police brutality in Kenosha, Wis.

Rittenhouse, now 18, killed Anthony Huber, 26, and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and injured Gaige Grosskreutz, then 26, with an AR-style rifle on Aug. 25, 2020, during unrest that followed the police shooting there of a Black man, Jacob Blake.

"I didn't do anything wrong," Rittenhouse testified on the stand. "I defended myself."

Prosecutors had charged him with six criminal counts ranging from first-degree intentional homicide to misdemeanor illegal firearms possession by a minor — although Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed the latter charge just before closing arguments began on Monday, reports CBS Chicago. The defense had argued that Rittenhouse's rifle was not short-barreled, and therefore the charging statute did not apply.

Each of the two homicide charges carried a maximum penalty of 60 years in prison.

Kyle Rittenhouse trial
Kyle Rittenhouse on the stand Nov. 10, 2021, in Kenosha, Wisc. Sean Krajacic-Pool/Getty

After the verdicts, lead prosecutor Thomas Binger said, "The jury has represented our community in this trial and has spoken," reports The New York Times.

Huber's parents Karen Bloom and John Huber, in an emailed statement to media that described them as "heartbroken and angry" over the acquittals, said: "Today's verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered our son. It 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. We hope that decent people will join us in forcefully rejecting that message and demanding more of our laws, our officials, and our justice system."

Jurors who deliberated into a fourth day found Rittenhouse not guilty of first-degree reckless homicide in Rosenbaum's death; not guilty of first-degree intentional homicide in Huber's death; and not guilty of attempted first-degree intentional homicide, which carried a maximum penalty of five years in prison, in the non-fatal shooting of Grosskreutz.

The remaining charges dismissed by jurors were both for first-degree recklessly endangering the safety through use of a dangerous weapon, involving two other men who were not shot.

Kyle Rittenhouse trial
Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisc., courtroom on Nov. 10, 2021. Sean Krajacic-Pool/Getty

Anticipating possible unrest in response to the verdicts, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has deployed 500 National Guard troops to the city to aid local law enforcement if needed, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

The prosecution's failure to secure guilty verdicts on the homicide charges lies partly in the decision to charge Rosembaum's death as "reckless" and Huber's as "intentional," says Matthew Barhoma, a criminal appeals and litigation attorney who was not involved in the case. One undercuts the other, he says.

"It really kind of destroys your case a little bit, in the sense that you misguided the jury," Barhoma tells PEOPLE. "The whole self-defense argument is going to be easy for the jury to accept when these men, Huber and Rosenbaum, appeared to be grabbing for his gun.

He added: "Reasonable minds can differ, but they reasonably could have turned it around and shot him."

But civil rights attorney V. James DeSimone, who also was not involved in the case, says the self-defense argument was dubious to him from the start.

"By bringing an AR-15 in such a volatile situation, and at times pointing the weapon at individuals when there was no direct threat, it really was Kyle Rittenhouse who was provoking the violent encounters," he tells PEOPLE. "Once Kyle Rittenhouse provokes those violent encounters, then he loses the claims of self-defense. And that [was] the prosecution's argument."

"One you have a weapon with that capability, you have an obligation to use it, or not use it, in a responsible manner," he says. "You can't just claim, 'Oh, I didn't know the gun would shoot so fast.' The first shot to Joseph Rosenbaum fractures his pelvis. He goes to the ground. He is helpless. At that point, there is no reason whatsoever for Kyle Rittenhouse to squeeze the trigger and shoot three more bullets into him."

Kyle Rittenhouse trial
Kyle Rittenhouse on the stand in his trial for murder Nov. 10 in Kenosha, Wisc. Mark Hertzberg-Pool/Getty

In accusing Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time of the killings, prosecutors alleged he answered a citizen militia's call on social media to protect Kenosha businesses from protesters. His shooting of the three men quickly inflamed debate about vigilantism and attracted pro-gun activists and allies to his side, including then-President Donald Trump, who chose not to denounce his actions.

"Kyle was a 17-year-old kid out there trying to help this community," defense attorney Mark Richards said in his closing argument, according to NBC News. In the death of Rosenbaum, whom Richards portrayed as belligerent to Rittenhouse, Richards said: "He was causing trouble, he was a rioter, and my client had to deal with him that night alone."

Prosecutor Binger, in his closing argument, said: "You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create." He added of Rittenhouse: "He showed no remorse for his victims. Never tried to help anybody that he hurt."

Judge Schroeder and Binger clashed repeatedly during the two-week trial, with rulings repeatedly favoring the defense, according to The Washington Post. In one instance, the judge on Veteran's Day urged everyone — jurors as well — to clap for those in the court who'd served in the military, which at the time included only an upcoming defense witness, reports The New York Times.

The shooter and victims all were white. But the incidents unfolded on a third night of clashes between protesters and police after a white Kenosha police officer, Rusten Sheskey, shot Blake multiple times in the back Aug. 23 during an attempted arrest while responding to what authorities said was a domestic disturbance.

Blake was partially paralyzed but survived. Neither the local prosecutor nor federal authorities filed charges against the officer. But the protests that Blake's shooting sparked merged with a summer of Black Lives Matter protests, civil unrest and sometimes violent clashes across the country over the killings of Black citizens, including George Floyd in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.

"I don't know how they came to the final conclusion that [Rittenhouse is] innocent, but this is why African Americans say the whole damn system is guilty," Blake's uncle, Justin Blake, said outside the courthouse after the Rittenhouse verdicts, according to The Washington Post. "This must end. We are here to support Anthony and Jojo and Gaige and that's what we're going to continue to do."

Supporters of Rittenhouse outside the courthouse greeted the verdicts with cheers, reports the Post.

Multiple videos shown in the Kenosha courtroom captured the actions of Rittenhouse. Prosecutors alleged in the charging document that Rittenhouse, who told a reporter prior to the shootings that he was a "trained medic" even as he carried the rifle over his shoulder, was overheard on his cell phone after the first shooting, saying to someone on the other end, "I just killed somebody."

In defending his actions on the stand, Rittenhouse said in response to a question from his defense attorney that he was not looking for trouble when he came to Kenosha but rather was there to help render first aid and extinguish fires, reports the Times.

He described an initial encounter with Rosenbaum, saying, "Mr. Rosenbaum was walking with a steel chain, and he had a blue mask around his face, and he was just mad about something." Rittenhouse claimed that Rosenbaum threatened to kill him, though he acknowledged that Rosenbaum never physically touched him.

Rittenhouse said he moved on, and "as I'm walking down Sheridan Road," he testified, "I hear somebody scream, 'Burn in hell,' and I reply with, 'Friendly, friendly, friendly,' to let them know, hey, I'm just here to help. I don't want any problems."

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His composure broke in court when he described a second alleged encounter with Rosenbaum moments before he shot him.

"A gunshot is fired from behind me, directly behind me," Rittenhouse said. "And I take a few steps, and that's when I turn around. And as I'm turning around, Mr. Rosenbaum is ... coming at me with his arms out in front of him. I remember his hand on the barrel of my gun."

After a second man, Huber, then struck Rittenhouse in the neck with a skateboard and grabbed the gun, Rittenhouse shot him too, reports the Associated Press. He next shot and wounded Grosskreutz because Grosskreutz allegedly lunged at him "with his pistol pointed directly at my head," Rittenhouse said.

Rittenhouse said that in firing his weapon, he only "intended to stop the people who were attacking" him.

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