Jury begin deliberations in Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial

KENOSHA, Wis. —

Jurors in the murder trial of Kyle Rittenhouse began deliberations Tuesday in a case that has become a touchstone on the issues of gun rights, vigilantism and law and order following months of racial justice protests across the country.

Rittenhouse was 17 and armed with an AR-15-style rifle when he shot and killed two men and wounded another as protests and riots against police brutality swept through Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020. The pudgy teenager with the short-cropped hair and pudgy features was instantly drawn into a national debate.

In the heated politics of Trump’s era, right embraced Rittenhouse, who had traveled from Illinois to help authorities restore order. He was accused of being a provocateur looking for violence.

Twelve jurors will consider a much narrower question: Was he acting in self-defense each time he pulled the trigger?

“The defendant caused the incident,” Assistant District. Atty. Thomas Binger told jurors during closing arguments Monday, asking them to think back on the video they’d watched of the moments before Rittenhouse shot 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum.

But Rittenhouse’s defense attorney, Mark Richards, said that Rosenbaum was the aggressor and that the evidence had shown he was “leaping” and “lunging” at the defendant and that his “hand was on the gun.”

“This has been a rush to judgment,” Richards said.

Now 18, Rittenhouse, dressed in a blue shirt and tie, occasionally yawned as he listened.

If Rittenhouse is convicted of first degree intentional homicide, he will likely spend the rest his life in prison. He is also facing charges of first-degree recklessly endingaffecting safety and first-degree recklessly homicide.

He also faced a misdemeanor for illegally possessing a weapon charge — which legal experts believed was the most likely to lead to a conviction. Wisconsin generally bans anyone under 18 from possessing a gun.

But just before closing arguments, Judge Bruce Schroeder discarded that charge, ruling that the Wisconsin law is unclear and can be interpreted to mean that 17-year-olds are allowed to openly carry firearms that are not short-barrel rifles.

Outside the Kenosha County Courthouse on Monday, throngs of television cameras lined a grassy area. Blue Lives Matter flag carried man paced backwards and forth.

“Self-defense is not a crime,” he said, declining to give his name. “Kyle Rittenhouse is innocent.”

A few feet away, another man stood next to a cardboard cutout of Rittenhouse wearing a T-shirt that read “Konvict Killer Kyle.”

“Justice is what we want!” he shouted into a megaphone.

The protests here in August of 2020 came after Rusten Sheskey, a white Kenosha police officer, shot and paralyzed a Black man, Jacob Blake, after being called to an apartment complex for a domestic violence dispute.

Blake, who was holding a knife when he was struck by several bullets, later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct. Sheskey was cleared by an investigation and is still in the department. National Guard troops and federal law enforcement were deployed to the city for several weeks following the shooting in order to protect property and deter protestors.

During the trial, Rittenhouse testified that he went to Kenosha to protect property and provide medical treatment.

The court video shows Rosenbaum following Rittenhouse around a parking lot, before Rittenhouse shoots him.

The second man he killed, 26-year-old Anthony Huber, can be seen swinging a skateboard at his head before attempting to grab Rittenhouse’s rifle. Moments later Rittenhouse fires a single shot that hits Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, in the arm. Grosskreutz was armed with a handgun.

For more than two weeks attorneys from both sides have called numerous witnesses. Rittenhouse testified, sobbing often as he stated that he feared for his own life. He stated that he didn’t want Rosenbaum to be shot at one point.

” He said that he didn’t do any wrong. “I defended myself.”

The trial has deeply divided Kenosha, a town of 100,000 tucked along the shores of Lake Michigan.

As he watched the trial from his home in Pleasant Prairie, seven miles west of Kenosha, Tim Pinter said he was “disgusted by what Rittenhouse had done.”

Still, he said, “I hope he gets off on the worst of the charges.”

“He’s foolish,” said Pinter, 48, who owns a construction company and had spent two nights last year guarding his own subdivision with a semiautomatic rifle, in fear that the riots might make it to his neighborhood.

Pinter said he understood Rittenhouse’s stated goal to patrol with a gun to protect property. What he didn’t understand was why a 17-year-old from a different state would come to his city.

“He is guilty of poor judgment,” Pinter stated. Pinter stated that he put himself in the wrong spot at the wrong time, probably with the right motives. He doesn’t deserve to spend the rest of his time in prison. He’s already paid a very dear price for what he’s done.”

Last year, the shopping centers a few blocks from Pinter’s home were full of boarded-up windows and doors. He said that things were normal this week and that he didn’t plan to go out with a gun in his neighborhood, regardless of the outcome of the trial.

“His victims are white,” Pinter stated. “If they were Black, I think things would be different.”

Alvin Owens, who owns a barbershop and community center just a few blocks from where the homicides occurred, said he also saw a racial element in the trial and its possible outcome.

“I don’t have any faith in the system,” said Owens, 53, who is Black. “The justice system has failed our community over and over again.”

“He’s going to be found not guilty. Yes, it is true that being white is a part of that. He said that if he is found guilty, he doesn’t believe the sentence will be sufficient.

He claimed he believed the judge in this case was biased.

“His cell phone rang during the trial with “Trump theme”, Owens stated, referring to the ringtone for “God Bless America,” which Lee Greenwood has used at rallies.

Owens, who was tear-gassed last year as he marched in rallies after police shot Blake, said he understood why people wanted to come out to protect their communities last summer. Rittenhouse was not one of those people, he said.

” We were all concerned about protecting ourselves. We just didn’t all have guns.”

With millions across the U.S. watching and reading about the events in his hometown, Owens said he hoped people would take away something beyond the trial.

” I want people to stop politicizing my city,” he stated. “We aren’t red. We are not red. We are America. Our political breakdown and our demographics match the overall country. We are a great country and we are going through some difficult times. We want to get past this chapter.”

Lee reported from Kenosha and Kaleem from Los Angeles.

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