Twelve jurors have begun deliberations in the criminal trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old who fatally shot two protesters and wounded a third during the unrest last year in Kenosha, Wis.
Over nearly five hours of closing arguments on Monday, prosecutors and defense lawyers made their final pitch to the panel, alternately describing Rittenhouse as a reckless “chaos tourist” looking for trouble, versus a responsible young man who was viciously attacked by lawless rioters.
Rittenhouse was 17 years old when he traveled to Kenosha on the evening of Aug. 25, 2020. He armed himself with an AR-15-style rifle with the intent, he testified, of protecting private property and acting as a medic.
Late that night, over the course of just about three minutes, Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, then ran away toward a police line. As he ran, he was chased by several other men, including Anthony Huber, 26, who struck him with a skateboard. Rittenhouse shot and killed Huber, then shot and injured Gaige Grosskreutz, then 26, who was holding a pistol.
In his closing argument, Mark Richards, a defense attorney representing Rittenhouse, said Kenosha was “hell” on the night of the shootings. He described the men shot by Rittenhouse as lawless, dangerous “rioters” who — had Rittenhouse not shot them — would have killed him.
“Kyle shot Joseph Rosenbaum to stop a threat to his person. And I’m glad he shot him,” Richards said. “Because if Joseph Rosenbaum had got that gun, I don’t for a minute believe he wouldn’t have used it against somebody else.”
Richards also used strong words to criticize the opposing side, accusing lead prosecutor Thomas Binger of lying to the jury. He said the charges — filed two days after the shooting in August 2020 — represented a “rush to judgment” with political motivations.
Prosecutors, for their part, said Rittenhouse made a series of reckless decisions that night — coming to Kenosha at all, bringing an AR-15, choosing to remain after curfew — and described him as a dangerous vigilante who chose to take law enforcement into his own hands.
“If people did bad things that night, they could have been prosecuted. It’s not up for Mr. Rittenhouse to be the judge, the jury and eventually the executioner,” said Assistant District Attorney James Kraus.
Once there, prosecutors said, Rittenhouse provoked the encounters — first by pointing his rifle at demonstrators, initiating the chase with Rosenbaum.
At that point, prosecutors said, Rittenhouse was an “active shooter,” and those chasing him — including Huber and Grosskreutz — were simply trying to stop him from shooting others.
“These are people that were provoked because they witnessed an attack or heard shots or heard he was attacking, and they took action,” Kraus said.
Though he himself would not have chosen to pursue Rittenhouse, he added, “that they did it is brave, and they did not deserve to be killed.”
Rittenhouse faces five counts, all felonies: first-degree reckless homicide for killing Rosenbaum; two count of reckless endangerment for firing his gun near others; first-degree intentional homicide for killing Huber and first-degree attempted intentional homicide for shooting Grosskreutz.
Jurors may also consider less serious versions of the counts related to Huber and Grosskreutz.
Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty to all. If convicted on the most serious charge, Rittenhouse faces life in prison.