Kyle Rittenhouse collapses as shock verdict handed down

·5-min read

A jury has acquitted teenager Kyle Rittenhouse of murder in the fatal shooting of two men during racial justice protests in a decision that ignited fierce debate about gun rights and self-defence in the United States.

The jury on Friday (local time) found Rittenhouse, 18, not guilty on all charges: two counts of homicide, one count of attempted homicide for wounding a third man, and two counts of recklessly endangering safety in protests marred by arson, rioting and looting on August 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Rittenhouse broke down sobbing after the verdict and collapsed to the floor before being helped back into his chair.

Kyle Rittenhouse closes his eyes and cries as he is found not guilty on all counts at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Kyle Rittenhouse sobs as he was found not guilty in court on Friday. Source: Getty Images
Kyle Rittenhouse breaks down inside the court room. Source: AP
Kyle Rittenhouse breaks down inside the court room. Source: AP

Amid a heavy law enforcement presence, several dozen protesters lined the steps outside the courthouse after the verdict was read, some carrying placards in support of Rittenhouse and others expressing anger and disappointment.

"We are all so very happy that Kyle can live his life as a free and innocent man, but in this whole situation there are no winners, there are two people who lost their lives and that's not lost on us at all," David Hancock, a spokesperson for the Rittenhouse family, told Reuters.

Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and fired a bullet that tore a chunk off the arm of Gaige Grosskreutz, 28. Rittenhouse claimed self-defence.

A woman recites poetry outside the Kenosha County Courthouse . Source: AP
A woman recites poetry outside the Kenosha County Courthouse . Source: AP

Joe Biden 'angered and concerned' by Rittenhouse verdict

President Joe Biden, who during last year's election campaign tweeted a video that appeared to link Rittenhouse to white supremacists, said on Friday that he supported the jury's decision and urged people to express their views on the verdict peacefully.

However in a statement issued by the White House, Mr Biden said the verdict will leave "many Americans feeling angered and concerned including myself.

"I know that we're not going to heal our country's wounds overnight, but I remain steadfast in my commitment to do everything in my power to ensure that every American is treated equally, with fairness and dignity, under the law," he said.

The president said he had contacted Tony Evers, the Governor of Wisconsin, and offered support "to ensure public safety".

Elsewhere reaction showed deep partisan divisions. It was greeted with outrage by many on the political left and celebrated by gun rights supporters.

Kyle Rittenhouse, at left in backwards cap, walks along Sheridan Road with former Army infantryman Ryan Balch in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Rittenhouse with former Army infantryman Ryan Balch in Kenosha, Wisconsin, before he shot three people. Source: AAP

"It is unconscionable our justice system would allow an armed vigilante ... to go free," the Congressional Black Caucus said in a statement.

The thorny issue of race also hung over the case, although Rittenhouse and the men he shot were all white. Some black activists argued the US police and courts would have treated the teenager more harshly if he had been black.

But conservatives saw the verdict as a validation of the US Constitution's Second Amendment, which grants Americans the right to bear arms.

US congressman Madison Cawthorn, a Republican representative from North Carolina, said on Instagram: "Kyle Rittenhouse is not guilty my friends. You have a right to defend yourselves. Be armed, be dangerous and be moral."

A supporter of Kyle Rittenhouse (L) argues with a Black Lives Matter supporter in front of the Kenosha County Courthouse while the jury deliberated. Source: Getty
A supporter of Kyle Rittenhouse (L) argues with a Black Lives Matter supporter in front of the Kenosha County Courthouse while the jury deliberated. Source: Getty

In reaching their verdicts after more than three days of deliberations, the jury contended with duelling narratives from the defence and prosecution that offered vastly different portrayals of the teenager's actions on the night of the shootings.

The defence argued Rittenhouse had been repeatedly attacked and had shot the men in fear for his life. They said he was a civic-minded teenager who had been in Kenosha to protect private property after several nights of unrest in the city south of Milwaukee.

The unrest followed the police shooting of a black man named Jacob Blake, who was left paralysed from the waist down.

The prosecution portrayed Rittenhouse as a reckless vigilante who provoked the violent encounters and showed no remorse for the men he shot with his AR-15-style rifle. They also noted he was the only one to kill anyone that night.

Justin Blake leads a protest march past the Kenosha County Courthouse after the jury retired for the evening in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse on in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Protessters outside Kenosha County Courthouse earlier in the week after the jury retired for the day. Source: Getty Images

Rittenhouse, who in tearful testimony said he had no choice but to open fire to protect himself, is viewed as heroic by some conservatives who favour expansive gun rights and consider the shootings justified. Many on the left view Rittenhouse as a vigilante and an embodiment of an out-of-control American gun culture.

Protests against racism and police brutality turned violent in many US cities after the police killing of black man George Floyd in Minneapolis three months before the Kenosha shootings.

With so much of that night in Kenosha caught on mobile phone and surveillance video, few basic facts were in dispute. The trial instead focused on whether Rittenhouse acted reasonably to prevent "imminent death or great bodily harm", the requirement for using deadly force under Wisconsin law.

with Reuters

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