We take a closer look at the outcome of the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. The teenager killed two people and injured a third in during last year’s racial justice protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
A jury in Kenosha, Wis., found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty of reckless homicide, intentional homicide and three other charges. Rittenhouse shot and killed two men and wounded a third last year during protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, who is Black. Joining us now from Kenosha is NPR’s David Schaper. David, thanks for being with us.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: From what you’ve been able to glean, can you help us understand why they reached the decision they did?
SCHAPER: Yeah, well, you know, prosecutors really tried to show that Rittenhouse recklessly put himself and others in danger by coming to Kenosha during these violent and destructive riots, by arming himself with this AR-15-style rifle. He was out there past curfew. And the prosecution emphasized that in all this chaos, he’s the only one there to shoot at people. But the defense argued throughout the trial consistently and ultimately successfully that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense when he shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber, and then shot and seriously hurt Gaige Grosskreutz. Julius Kim is a former prosecutor who’s now a criminal defense attorney in the Milwaukee area. And he says that the video evidence was key because it showed that Rosenbaum was chasing Rittenhouse in a menacing way. It showed Huber trying to hit Rittenhouse with his skateboard. And it showed Grosskreutz with a gun, and he himself testified that he pointed that gun at Rittenhouse.
JULIUS KIM: I think that when the jury saw all that happening and then read the instructions where they’re asked if Kyle Rittenhouse reasonably believed that he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm at the time these incidents occurred, they just weren’t convinced that he wasn’t or that he didn’t believe that.
SIMON: Rittenhouse took the stand and testified that he acted in self-defense. This is often considered a risky move, especially for someone who just turned 18 years old.
SCHAPER: Yeah, it is. And it was acknowledged as much by Mark Richards, Rittenhouse’s defense attorney. It’s something that can certainly backfire under intense cross-examination. But Rittenhouse was well-prepared, well-rehearsed when he got on the stand. One legal expert we talked to said that he was very believable. And importantly, he came off more as a regular teenager.
SIMON: David, this is a case that has obviously divided public opinion across the country and in Wisconsin, as well. I wonder what you’ve been hearing from people there.
SCHAPER: You know, there were Rittenhouse supporters and detractors who made their presence known outside of the Kenosha County Courthouse every day of the trial. Among those who was a frequent presence is 60-year-old Tom Heineman, who lives in nearby Racine.
TOM HEINEMAN: I think this case did for the Second Amendment what everybody in many other parts of the country wanted to see happen, which was that people could, you know, be assured that they would be defended by a court and by the police and by the judge in the case of defending themselves and defending their property.
SCHAPER: But, you know, that kind of sentiment doesn’t sit well with people like Tanya McLean of Kenosha, who says she’s sad and disheartened by the verdict.
TANYA MCLEAN: Black and brown people just feel like their voices don’t matter. And then when things like this happen, it just kind of reinforces that. It’s hard as an African American leader to go back into the community and say, hey, you know, let’s fight for change when it’s always the same thing.
SCHAPER: McLean says she worries that this verdict may encourage more people to bring firearms to protests in the future.
SIMON: David Schaper in Kenosha, thanks so much for being with us.
SCHAPER: My pleasure, Scott.
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