Brandon Lesco stands with a sign outside the Kenosha County courthouse as the jury returns a not guilty verdict in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Friday. Photo by Tannen Maury/EPA-EFE
Nov. 19 (UPI) -- A Wisconsin jury on Friday found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty of all charges related to the shooting of three people -- two of them fatally -- during racial justice protests in Kenosha.
Prosecutors alleged that Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time of the Aug. 25, 2020 shooting, traveled from nearby Antioch, Ill., armed with an AR-15-style rifle to instigate violence. Defense attorneys for Rittenhouse, now 18, argued that he acted in self-defense when he shot dead Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26.
The trial has been politically divisive, with confrontational protests playing out outside the Kenosha County courthouse. Five nearby schools moved to remote learning "out of an abundance of caution" this week as the jury deliberated.
Gov. Tony Evers put 500 National Guard on standby to support law enforcement in anticipation of the verdict.
President Joe Biden released a statement: "While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken. ... I urge everyone to express their views peacefully, consistent with the rule of law. Violence and destruction of property have no place in our democracy."
Jurors found Rittenhouse not guilty of first-degree reckless homicide in the death of Rosenbaum, first-degree intentional homicide in the death of Huber and attempted first-degree intentional homicide in the shooting of volunteer paramedic Gaige Grosskreutz, who was wounded.
Additionally, Rittenhouse was acquitted on two counts of recklessly endangering safety by attempting to shoot an unknown person who tried to kick him and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment for shooting twice at the unidentified man and in the direction of videographer Richard McGinniss.
As the verdict was read, Rittenhouse teared up and lost his balance.
A lawyer for Rittenhouse told The New York Times: "He's relieved, and he looks forward to getting on with his life. And having a jury of 12 people find him not guilty meant the world to him, in practical and symbolic ways."
Hannah Gittings, the girlfriend of the slain Huber, told WISN 12 News earlier in the week that waiting for the verdict had been stressful. She also expressed sympathy for Rittenhouse.
"I don't think anybody there that night was not traumatized," she said. "I felt for him and his mother. He's a kid and as a mother myself, it's difficult to watch your child go through things like that. I wish they could have the same empathy for us and realize that all of us have been crying probably a lot worse than that."
Karen Bloom and John Huber, Anthony Huber's parents, said the verdict left them "heartbroken and angry," the Chicago Tribune reported.
"Today's verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered our son," they said in a statement. "It sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street. We hope that decent people will join us in forcefully rejecting that message and demanding more of our laws, our officials and our justice system."
During the politically divisive trial, Rittenhouse became a folk hero among conservatives who said he stood up to the unrest during last year's protests. Progressives have said Rittenhouse's case was emblematic of White privilege, unequal justice and problematic gun laws.
"I believe justice has been served in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial," U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., tweeted. "I hope everyone can accept the verdict, remain peaceful and let the community of Kenosha heal and rebuild."
Some conservative members of Congress, including Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., celebrated the verdict. Gaetz suggested Rittenhouse would make a good intern.
"Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum are victims. They should be alive today," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted. "The only reason they're not is because a violent, dangerous man chose to take a gun across state lines and start shooting people. To call this a miscarriage of justice is an understatement."
NAACP President Derrick Johnson called the verdict a failure of the system.
"This justice system has once again showcased that there is a system within the system that consistently slaps 'other' communities on the wrist and sentences Black communities to profiling and despair," he said on Twitter.
During four days of deliberations, the jury sent five notes asking the court for images and videos used in the trial.
During the trial, Kariann Swart, Rosenbaum's fiancée, testified that they met in 2019 while they were homeless and living in a hotel, She told jurors Rosenbaum had recently been discharged from a hospital in Milwaukee and was carrying papers, socks, deodorant, a toothbrush and toothpaste in a plastic bag. Videos played during the trial showed Rosenbaum throwing a plastic bag at Rittenhouse.
Grosskreutz, a paramedic from Milwaukee, had attended dozens of Black Lives Matter protests and gave key testimony during the trial. He said he did not intentionally point a handgun he was carrying at Rittenhouse during the confrontation.
The 2020 protests in Kenosha where the shootings took place concerned Jacob Blake, an African American man who was left paralyzed after being shot by police.
In an interview released by TMZ Thursday, Blake said he expected Rittenhouse to get off easy because of White privilege. He also called for people to refrain from rioting, regardless of the verdict.
Blake's shooting sparked further outrage during a summer marked by waves of protests against racial injustice. But in October of this year, the U.S. Justice Department said it didn't have enough evidence to prove Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey used excessive force against Blake.
Lawyer's for Blake filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in March against Sheskey.