At the start of the final day of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, the judge tossed out one of the few charges many thought were a slam dunk for the prosecution.
Monday marks the culmination of a tense and lengthy court battle as the prosecution and defense present the jury with their final arguments. Rittenhouse, now 18, shot and killed two men and injured a third during a chaotic night in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last summer during a protest against racial injustice.
At the start of the day, before the jury was called in, Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed a firearms charge regarding Rittenhouse open-carrying his AR-15 while under 18 because the law only applies to weapons with shorter barrels. Many thought this was one of the charges to most likely return a guilty verdict; with it being tossed, the door for a full acquittal has been opened.
The polarizing case is built solely around an argument over whether Rittenhouse, armed with an AR-15, killed the men in self-defense—which the defense will present in its closing arguments.
The prosecution began its closing arguments by asking why Rittenhouse was in Kenosha in the first place. Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger asked the jury to consider if the teen was “genuinely interested in helping people,” as the defense claimed.
“He ran around with an AR-15 all night and lied about being an EMT,” said Binger. “Does that suggest to you that he genuinely was there to help?”
Using zoomed-in drone footage from the moments just before the first killing, Binger tried to dismantle Rittenhouse’s self-defense argument, saying that Rittenhouse provoked one of the victims, Joseph Rosenbaum, by pointing his gun at people, which sparked the night’s bloodshed.
“When the defendant provokes the incident he loses the right to self-defense,” said Binger. “You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create.”
Later in his arguments, Binger said that the crowd could easily have seen Rittenhouse, who fled the scene where he killed Rosenbaum, as “an active shooter.”
“The crowd sees the defendant running with a gun; he’s lying to them, this is provocation to them. This is someone who has committed a criminal act and is putting people in danger. It is entirely reasonable for the crowd to believe he is going to kill again.”
“I submit to you, ladies and gentleman, that the crowd has a right to stop an active shooter.”
On Friday, the prosecution sought to include several “lesser included” charges against Rittenhouse, essentially hedging their bet—Schroeder allowed for only a few to be included.
Anticipating civil unrest following the trial, Wisconsin governor Tony Evers has asked for 500 National Guard troops to remain on standby in Kenosha. In a press release, Evers urged “folks who are otherwise not from the area” to reconsider traveling to Kenosha following the verdict and those who do show up to “exercise their First Amendment rights to do so safely and peacefully.”
On August 25, 2020, Rittenhouse, then 17, traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, from his home in a nearby Illinois town. He made the trip after seeing reports on social media of protesters flooding the streets and causing property damage during a protest sparked by local police shooting and paralyzing Jacob Blake, an unarmed Black man. Armed with an AR-15-style rifle, Rittenhouse went to defend a car dealership. He presented himself as a medic who was there to help people.
The defense and the prosecution agree that Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, who was unarmed, after Rosenbaum chased him in a parking lot. Rittenhouse then fled the scene and claimed he was headed toward police but was confronted by a group of people. He fell, and while on the ground, he shot at an unidentified man trying to kick him, shot and killed Anthony Huber, who had hit him with a skateboard, and also shot and injured Gaige Grosskreutz, who’d approached him with a handgun. (Grosskreutz testified he thought Rittenhouse was an active shooter.)
Interest in the trial is high with hundreds of thousands of people watching livestreams of the court sessions. Some YouTubers and streamers have even been holding watch-alongs where people can watch the court sessions together.
It’s hard to overstate how polarizing this trial has been. On the left, Rittenhouse is seen as a vigilante out looking for blood in Kenosha that evening and a representation of U.S. gun culture run amok. On the right, he’s viewed as a teenager forced into a position where he had to draw blood in self-defense and was unfairly charged by a “woke” prosecution. In some far-right corners, Rittenhouse is actively treated as a hero. When Rittenhouse broke down on the stand last week, some described his breakdown as “crocodile tears” and acting whereas others saw him being a brave young man battling PTSD.
Eighteen jurors are currently hearing the trial—it was originally 19 but one was dismissed after making a joke about the police shooting of Blake to the rest of the jurors. Later Monday, twelve jurors from the 18 will be selected via a random draw to decide the verdict.
Deliberation will begin Monday night.
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