A jury is to begin deliberations Tuesday in the high-profile case of the American teenager who shot dead two men and wounded another during anti-police protests and riots last year in the Wisconsin city of Kenosha.
Kyle Rittenhouse, 18, who is charged with reckless homicide, testified during the two-week trial that he opened fire with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle in self-defense.
Prosecutors dismissed the self-defense claim during closing arguments on Monday, saying it was Rittenhouse who had “provoked” the events on the night of August 25, 2020.
“You cannot hide behind self-defense if you provoked the incident,” Kenosha County assistant district attorney Thomas Binger said. “The defendant provoked everything.”
“No reasonable person would have done what the defendant did,” Binger told the jury. “And that makes your decision easy. He is guilty of all counts.”
The case has drawn national attention because it arose from the nationwide “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations last year.
Protests and rioting in Kenosha erupted after a white policeman shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, several times in his car during an arrest, leaving him paralyzed.
In right-wing and pro-gun circles, Rittenhouse, who claims he went to Kenosha to protect property from looters and act as a medic, has been painted as a heroic figure.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has put 500 members of the state National Guard on standby in the event of trouble following a verdict.
‘Nobody deputized him’
In his instructions to the jury after closing arguments, Judge Bruce Schroeder told the 12-member panel not to be swayed by “sympathy, passion, prejudice or political beliefs.”
“You will pay no heed to the opinions of anyone, even the president of the United States or the president before him,” Schroeder said in a reference to Joe Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump.
Testifying in court last week, 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.”
But Binger, the prosecutor, said “none of these people (shot by Rittenhouse) posed an imminent threat to the defendant’s life.”
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,” Binger said.
“Nobody asked him to do that,” he added. “Nobody gave him the right. Nobody deputized him.”
‘No winners in this case’
Defense attorney Mark Richards said the then 17-year-old Rittenhouse had come to Kenosha that night because he was “trying to help.”
“He worked in Kenosha. His Dad lived in Kenosha. His grandmother lived in Kenosha,” Richards said.
“My client didn’t shoot at anyone until he was chased and cornered,” he said. “Every person who was shot was attacking Kyle — one with a skateboard, one with his hands, one with his feet, one with a gun.”
“There are no winners in this case,” the defense attorney added. “But putting Kyle Rittenhouse down for something he was privileged to do would serve no legitimate purpose.”
James Kraus, another prosecutor, accused the defense team of trying to make the jury believe “that these people got what was coming to them.”
“If people did bad things that night they could have been prosecuted,” he said. “It’s not up to Mr. Rittenhouse to be the judge and the jury and eventually the executioner.
“He was not acting in legal justified self-defense.”
Rittenhouse is charged with five felony counts, including first-degree homicide and attempted homicide.
The judge on Monday dropped one charge: illegal possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18.