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Kyle Rittenhouse: what did he do, who were the victims, and verdict of Kenosha Shooting trial

Kyle Rittenhouse shot 3 people during protests against the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, USA in August 2020

In 2020, the US was rocked by a series of killings and shootings of black people by police - events that spawned racial tensions across the USA and waves of protest around the world.

Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks joined a long line of people who lost their lives at the hands of American law enforcement.

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So when a similar incident occurred in August 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin - a city that’s around 60 miles north of Chicago - protests engulfed the city.

The prosecution has portrayed Kyle Rittenhouse as an aggressor, while his defense said he only fired his weapon in self-defence (image: Getty Images)

But during these protests, 17-year-old gunman Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed two people and injured a third.

In November 2021, Mr Rittenhouse stood trial in the US in a case that divided the nation.

Some believed the teenager was merely a good citizen who was out protecting businesses from protesters and looters.

Others reckoned he was an armed vigilante looking for trouble.

He was found to be not guilty.

So what led to the Kenosha shooting, who is Kyle Rittenhouse - and what happened during his trial?

Here’s what you need to know.

What caused the Kenosha protests?

The Kenosha protests broke out when police shot 29-year-old black man Jacob Blake, leaving him paralysed from the waist down and with severe damage to his internal organs.

On 23 August 2020, police drove to Blake’s girlfriend’s house after she had phoned 911 to say he had taken the keys to her car and she was concerned he might crash it.

Blake already had a warrant out for his arrest after having been accused of sexual assault, trespassing and disorderly conduct.

When the officers arrived they scuffled with Blake next to the car, which had his children inside.

Jacob Blake’s shooting led to days of protests in Kenosha, some of which turned violent (image: Getty Images)

When Blake opened the car door and leant inside, police said they believed he had grabbed a knife - something that has been disputed in the different accounts of the incident.

One of the officers - Rusten Sheskey - fired seven bullets at Blake which hit him in the back and the side.

Blake was then taken to hospital where it was later confirmed he had been paralysed from the waist down.

At his trial, Blake pleaded not guilty to his sexual assault charge and reached a deal with the prosecution whereby the charge was dropped in return for him pleading guilty to disorderly conduct.

He was sentenced to two years on probation.

After investigations at state and federal level, criminal and civil charges against Sheskey were dropped and he returned to active duty in April 2021.

Who is Kyle Rittenhouse?

Jacob Blake’s shooting fuelled days of protests.

Most of them were peaceful, but pockets of violence and looting broke out in some areas.

While the US National Guard - a reserve division of the army - was deployed to quell any violence, some civilians took matters into their own hands and patrolled the streets with weapons.

On 25 August, an outbreak of disorder led to a spate of fires and the destruction of businesses.

It was during this disorder that Kyle Rittenhouse, who was aged 17 at the time and had been patrolling the streets with a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle, shot and killed two people and injured a third.

The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse has seen footage of him being chased and then shooting Joseph Rosenbaum (image: Getty Images)

The two people the teenager killed were Joseph Rosenbaum (36) and Anthony Huber (26).

The survivor was Gaige Grosskreutz, who is now aged 27.

According to The New York Times, posts on Mr Rittenhouse’s social media accounts in the run up to the shootings were supportive of pro-police causes.

His posts also suggested he had a strong affinity for guns, with videos showing him firing, assembling and posing with guns.

While Mr Rittenhouse, who is currently studying nursing at Arizona State University, lived in Antioch, Illinois with his mum at the time of the Kenosha protests, he said his dad was a Kenosha resident.

What do we know from his trial?

Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial lasted for three weeks in November 2021.

It took the 12-person jury three days to reach a not guilty verdict at the courthouse in Wisconsin.

He was cleared of all the charges he faced:

  • First-degree intentional homicide (essentially, a murder charge)
  • First-degree reckless homicide (a similar charge to manslaughter)
  • Attempted first-degree intentional homicide (attempted murder)
  • Two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety.

Had he been found guilty, Mr Rittenhouse could have expected a life sentence in prison.

The prosecution portrayed him as an aggressor during the trial, while his defense said he fired his weapon only in self-defence.

The family of one of Kyle Rittenhouse’s victims said the verdict sent an ‘unacceptable message’ (image: Getty Images)

US media commentators said the trial’s verdict rested on whether the teenager’s actions were “reasonable”.

But the case also prompted a wider debate about the carrying of guns and the limits of self-defence.

In the aftermath of the verdict, the family of one of Mr Rittenhouse’s victims - Anthony Huber - said the not guilty verdict put out “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.”

Meanwhile, a Republican congressman from North Carolina, Madison Cawthorn, told his followers on Instagram that the trial meant “you have a right to defend yourselves. Be armed, be dangerous and be moral."

Protests have taken place across the USA in the aftermath of the verdict, turning violent in Portland, Oregon.

Wisconsin State governor Tony Evers put 500 National Guard troops on standby to quell the threat of protests in Kenosha itself.

In the end, supporters and opponents of Mr Rittenhouse acted peacefully outside the courthouse.

What Kyle Rittenhouse’s defence team said

Mr Rittenhouse’s lawyers opened with two armed people who went to Kenosha on the night of the shootings - one of whom claimed to be defending a car dealership Rittenhouse had also offered to protect and had met the teenager on the day of the shootings.

The defence witnesses all spoke of how terrified the teenager was after he shot three people.

On the second day of defence testimony, Rittenhouse himself gave testimony.

The 18-year-old insisted he had only fired the fatal shots in self-defence and had gone to Kenosha that day with the belief that he would not be in any danger.

Recounting the moments leading up to him shooting Joseph Rosenbaum, Mr Rittenhouse broke down.

The teenager said he believed that if Mr Rosenbaum had taken his gun, “he would have used it and killed me with it and probably killed more people”.

Throughout his testimony, he referred to the people present in Kenosha that night as being a “mob” and his victims as “rioters”, “arsonists” and “looters”.

On the final day of testimony, Mr Rittenhouse’s defence lawyers brought several witnesses to the stand.

These included conservative commentator Drew Hernandez, who filmed video of the Kenosha protests.

Hernandez said Rittenhouse had tried to deescalate tensions at one point and also described the first victim, Mr Rosenbaum, as “physically aggressive”.

In the defence’s closing argument, Rittenhouse’s lawyer Mark D. Richards sought to undermine prosecution lawyer Thomas Binger by accusing him of lying and misrepresentation.

What did the prosecution say?

The prosecution showed the trial infrared, aerial footage appearing to show Rittenhouse being chased by the first person he killed - Mr Rosenbaum.

Rittenhouse was shown to have turned and shot Mr Rosenbaum four times.

A former marine, Jason Lackowski, said Mr Rosenbaum had been acting “belligerently” in the lead up to the shooting, and had been trying to provoke both Lackowski and Mr Rittenhouse into shooting him.

However, Mr Lackowski did not consider the unarmed man to be a threat.

After Mr Rosenbaum was shot, Mr Rittenhouse appeared to attempt to flee the scene and was shown in footage to have fallen to the floor.

The video appeared to show people attempting to disarm him.

Mr Rittenhouse fired shots at one person, missing his target, and then fatally shot Anthony Huber, who had been attempting to hit him with a skateboard.

Mr Grosskreutz was then shot in the arm after having approached Mr Rittenhouse with a gun, jurors heard.

The prosecutors also analysed the teenager’s motivations for patrolling the streets.

The trial heard that he had offered to protect a car dealership via text, although the business’s owner said he had not seen the message on the night of the shootings and never replied to the message.

In his closing statement, prosecution lawyer Thomas Binger told the jury Rittenhouse had brought “a gun to a fistfight” and said, “You cannot claim self-defence against a danger you create.”

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