Kyle Rittenhouse, the American teenager who shot and killed two men and wounded another during protests against police brutality and riots in Wisconsin last year, was acquitted of all charges on Friday.
A jury found Rittenhouse, 18, not guilty of reckless and intentional homicide and other charges stemming from the shootings that took place in August 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Rittenhouse, who claimed the shootings were self-defence, sobbed as the verdict was read and sank into his chair. He rushed out of the courtroom after the jury was dismissed.
Rittenhouse testified during the two-week trial that he shot the three men with his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle after being attacked.
Prosecutors dismissed the self-defence claim, saying it was the then 17-year-old Rittenhouse who “provoked” the events during a night of unrest in Kenosha.
Rittenhouse faced five charges — one count of intentional homicide, one count of reckless homicide, one count of attempted intentional homicide and two counts of recklessly endangering safety.
The most serious charge — intentional homicide — carried a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
The jury deliberated for four days before delivering a unanimous verdict of not guilty on all counts.
The case drew national attention because it arose from the “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations that swept the country last year.
Civil unrest erupted in Kenosha, a city of 100,000 on the shores of Lake Michigan, in August 2020 after a white policeman shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, several times during an arrest, leaving him paralyzed.
In right-wing and pro-gun circles, Rittenhouse, who claimed he went to Kenosha to protect businesses from arsonists and looters and act as a medic, was painted as a heroic figure.
– ‘Disgusting’ –
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was among the first to react to the verdict, calling it “disgusting.”
“It sends a horrible message to this country,” De Blasio said in a tweet. “To call this a miscarriage of justice is an understatement.”
Republican lawmakers welcomed the not guilty finding.
“Justice has been served,” said Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson. “I hope everyone can accept the verdict, remain peaceful, and let the community of Kenosha heal and rebuild.”
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers put 500 members of the state National Guard on standby in the event of trouble following the verdict.
“Self-Defense is an inherent right inside of your home AND outside of your home,” said Representative Lee Zeldin, a Republican from New York.
Testifying in court, Rittenhouse said he “didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I defended myself,” he said. “I did not intend to kill them. I intended to stop the people who were attacking me.”
Prosecutors said Rittenhouse — who lived in the neighboring state of Illinois — had come to Kenosha as a self-appointed “junior policeman” and “made a series of reckless decisions.”
“Nobody asked him to do that,” prosecutor Thomas Binger said. “Nobody deputized him.”
Defense attorney Mark Richards said Rittenhouse “didn’t shoot at anyone until he was chased and cornered.”
“Every person who was shot was attacking Kyle — one with a skateboard, one with his hands, one with his feet, one with a gun,” he said.