Kyle Rittenhouse has been acquitted of all charges after pleading self-defense in the deadly Kenosha, Wisconsin, shootings that became a flashpoint in the nation’s debate over guns, vigilantism and racial injustice.
The jury came back with its verdict after close to 3 1/2 days of deliberation.
Rittenhouse, 18, could have gotten life in prison if found guilty of the most serious charge against him.
He was charged with homicide, attempted homicide and recklessly endangering safety for killing two men and wounding a third with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle.
The shootings took place during a night of protests over police violence against Black people in the tumultuous summer of 2020. Rittenhouse is white, as were those he shot. The jury appeared to be overwhelmingly white.
Jurors listened to two weeks of dueling portrayals of Rittenhouse. Prosecutors say he was a “wannabe soldier” who brought a semi-automatic rifle to a racial justice protest and instigated the bloodshed. The defense says he acted in self-defense.
Even as the jury weighed the evidence, two mistrial requests from the defense hung over the case, with the potential to upend the verdict if the panel were to convict Rittenhouse. One of those requests asks the judge to go even further and bar prosecutors from retrying him.
Jayda Johnson, Ball State freshman dance major, said she thinks the decision in this case is a reflection of the U.S. justice system in general.
“It’s almost funny because it’s unbelievable — but it’s still believable,” Johnson said. “Our justice system just keeps failing so many people … [and] it just proves a lot of peoples’ points.”
Noah Winn, Indiana Academy student, said he is angry about the decision but doesn’t think it is surprising.
“I don’t think it’s setting a precedent — I think it’s going along with the precedent that’s already been set,” Winn said. “People like Kyle Rittenhouse have gotten away with what they’ve been doing for a long time, and him getting away with the crime that he committed is just in a long line of similar events.”
Other students expressed some disappointment in the way the trial was handled, but ultimately said Rittenhouse acted in self-defense.
“I think that he maybe could have gotten charged with incitement of violence, and he definitely came looking for a fight, but as the killings happened … that was, by law, self-defense,” Charlie Cronin, sophomore communications major, said.
However, Cronin said he believes the verdict sets a precedent he isn’t necessarily comfortable with.
“Killing people and not seeing any jail time doesn’t necessarily sit well with me, but, again, he was acting in those killings under self-defense,” Cronin said. “But he broke other crimes that led him to commit those killings that I think also set a harmful precedent.”
Tyler Marks, fifth-year accounting major, said he followed news of the case on Twitter and changed his personal opinion of Rittenhouse’s guilt after watching witness testimonies. Richie McGinniss, a witness for the prosecution, said victim Joseph Rosenbaum lunged for Rittenhouse’s gun. Gaige Grosskreutz, who was shot by Rittenhouse and survived, was carrying a pistol during the Aug. 23, 2020 protest against the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha police officer, and said he thought he was going to die when he met Rittenhouse in the street.
“Going into it, I was definitely on the side of ‘he’s guilty,’” Marks said. “But then, after seeing some anecdotes from the trial and vaguely following it, I think it was probably correct what they came to based on what I saw. My mind kind of flipped on it, I guess.”
Marks said he feels much of the public reaction to the story can be attributed to media coverage of the event. According to an Economist/YouGov poll, 45 percent of U.S. adult citizens felt he should be convicted compared to 32 percent who felt he shouldn’t.
“Looking back, it almost looks like a witch hunt … in terms of how [media] portrayed him,” Marks said.
Gwen Lawler, Indiana Academy student, said she is disappointed in the outcome of the case, especially in regard to the context in which it happened. The shootings involving Rittenhouse happened just less than three months after the murder of George Floyd and during a summer characterized by social and political unrest.
“I just wish that, after everything we’ve gone through these last few years, something would have actually changed,” Lawler said. “It’s almost surprising, but, at the same time, it’s not.”