Defence rests at Kenosha shooting trial

·2-min read

The stage is set for closing arguments at the murder trial of Kyle Rittenhouse over shootings that have left Americans divided over whether he was a patriot taking a stand against lawlessness or a vigilante.

Rittenhouse's lawyers delivered two and a half days of testimony to the prosecution's five, with the most riveting moment coming when the 18-year-old told the jury he was defending himself from attack when he used his rifle to kill two men and wound a third on the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the summer of 2020.

Prosecutors sought to portray Rittenhouse as the instigator of the bloodshed, which took place during a tumultuous night of protests against racial injustice.

He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge against him.

After closing arguments, names will be drawn to decide which 12 jurors will deliberate and which will be dismissed. Eighteen people have been hearing the case.

The protests in Kenosha were set off by the wounding of black man Jacob Blake by a white police officer.

Rittenhouse, then 17, went to Kenosha from his home in Antioch, Illinois, with a rifle and a medical kit in what the former police and fire youth cadet said was an effort to protect property after rioters set fires and ransacked businesses on previous nights.

The teenager is white, as were those he shot.

The case has stirred fierce debate over vigilantism, self-defence, the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and the unrest that erupted around the US over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other police violence against black people.

Rittenhouse is charged with first-degree intentional homicide, which is Wisconsin's murder count; attempted first-degree intentional homicide; first-degree reckless homicide; reckless endangering; and illegal possession of a weapon by a person under 18.

Prosecutors said they will ask Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder to allow the jury to consider possible lesser charges on some of the counts.

One of the final witnesses for the defence was a use-of-force expert, John Black, who testified less than three seconds elapsed between the time somebody fired a bullet in the air and Rittenhouse opening fire on the first man he shot, Joseph Rosenbaum.

Black took the stand as part of an effort by Rittenhouse's lawyers to show he had reason to fear for his life and acted in self-defence.

Rittenhouse testified he heard a gunshot directly behind him as he was being chased by Rosenbaum. Authorities said the shot was fired by someone else in the crowd.

The account Rittenhouse gave has largely been corroborated by a wealth of video and the prosecution's own witnesses: Rittenhouse said Rosenbaum cornered him and put his hand on the barrel of his rifle, the second man hit him with a skateboard, and the third came at him with a gun of his own.

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