explainer

Kyle Rittenhouse shot two men dead during a US protest. He's just been found not guilty.

After more than three days of deliberation, a jury has found teenager Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty of murder during a US protest last year. 

The 18-year-old was charged with killing two men - Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26 - and wounding a third - Gaige Grosskreutz, 28 - during a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020.

Rittenhouse claimed self-defence.

On Friday, the jury found Rittenhouse not guilty on all charges: two counts of homicide, one count of attempted homicide, and two counts of recklessly endangering safety.

He could have faced life in prison if found guilty of the most serious charge against him. 

Rittenhouse broke down sobbing after the verdict and collapsed to the floor before being helped back into his chair.

Kyle Rittenhouse reacts as he is found not guilty on all counts at the Kenosha County Courthouse. Image: Getty.

After the verdict was read, several dozen protesters lined the steps outside the courthouse, some carrying placards in support of Rittenhouse and others expressing disappointment.

"We are all so very happy that Kyle can live his life as a free and innocent man, but in this whole situation there are no winners, there are two people who lost their lives, and that's not lost on us at all," David Hancock, a spokesperson for the Rittenhouse family, told Reuters.

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What happened during the Kenosha shooting?

On August 25, 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, travelled from his home in Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Black Lives Matter protests had broken out over police violence. 

The unrest came after the police shooting of a Black man named Jacob Blake, who was left paralysed from the waist down. Just three months earlier, George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis. 

Armed with an assault rifle strapped to his chest, Rittenhouse said he was at the protest to protect property and provide medical aid. 

However, shots were fired after 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum began chasing Rittenhouse before trying to grab his gun. 

"As I'm turning around, Mr Rosenbaum is, I would say, from me to where the judge is, coming at me with his arms out in front of him," Rittenhouse said during his testimony, according to the ABC. 

"I remember his hand on the barrel of my gun... There was no space for me to continue to run to."

Rittenhouse then shot Rosenbaum before running back towards a line set up by police. On his way, he tripped and fell to the ground. 

Rittenhouse then fatally shot 26-year-old Anthony Huber after Huber hit him with a skateboard. 

Gaige Grosskreutz was later shot in the arm after pointing a gun at Rittenhouse.

What happened during the trial? 

In court, mobile phone and surveillance video caught so much of the events that unfolded that night, that only a few basic facts were in dispute. 

The trial instead focused on whether Rittenhouse acted reasonably to prevent "imminent death or great bodily harm", the requirement for using deadly force under Wisconsin law.

The defence argued Rittenhouse had been repeatedly attacked and had shot the men in fear for his life. They said he was a civic-minded teenager who had been in Kenosha to protect private property after several nights of unrest in the city south of Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the prosecution portrayed Rittenhouse as a reckless vigilante who provoked the violent encounters and showed no remorse for the men he shot with his AR-15-style rifle. They also pointed out that he was the only one to kill anyone that night.

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Rittenhouse, who in tearful testimony said he had no choice but to open fire to protect himself, is viewed as heroic by some conservatives who favour expansive gun rights and consider the shootings justified.

However, many on the left view Rittenhouse as a vigilante and an embodiment of an out-of-control American gun culture.

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How have people reacted to the verdict?

The verdict was met by outrage by many on the political left while celebrated by gun rights supporters. 

"It is unconscionable our justice system would allow an armed vigilante... to go free," the Congressional Black Caucus said in a statement.

US President Joe Biden, who during last year's election campaign tweeted a video that appeared to link Rittenhouse to white supremacists, said on Friday he supported the jury's decision and urged people to express their views on the verdict peacefully.

"While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken," he said in a statement. 

"I know that we're not going to heal our country's wounds overnight, but I remain steadfast in my commitment to do everything in my power to ensure that every American is treated equally, with fairness and dignity, under the law."

While Rittenhouse and the men he shot were all white, some activists also said that US police and courts would have treated the teenager more harshly if he had been Black. 

Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump Tweeted that "conversation and outcome would be starkly different" if the case was about a Black man. 

"The Rittenhouse case has pulled back the curtain on profound cracks in our justice system - from deep bias routinely and unabashedly displayed by the judge, to apathy of officers who witnessed Rittenhouse's actions and did nothing," he wrote.

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Meanwhile, conservatives saw the verdict as a validation of the US Constitution's Second Amendment, which grants Americans the right to bear arms.

US congressman Madison Cawthorn, a Republican representative from North Carolina, said on Instagram: "Kyle Rittenhouse is not guilty my friends. You have a right to defend yourselves. Be armed, be dangerous and be moral."

 With AAP. 

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.