Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenager who shot and killed two men and wounded another as violent protests against police brutality swept through Kenosha last year, was acquitted of all charges Friday in a case that has amplified the national debate over vigilantism and law and order.
Rittenhouse, 18, faced charges including intentional homicide and reckless endangerment for his role in the August 2020 shootings.
As the verdict was read for each count, Rittenhouse quivered, sobbed and — on the fifth and final "not guilty" — fell to his knees.
It took the jurors — seven women, five men — three days to reach their decision inside a downtown Kenosha courthouse, a capstone to a two-week-long trial that reignited the charged politics of the Trump era.
Since its start, this city and the rest of the country were on edge in anticipation of the verdict. On Friday, a handful of demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse in frigid temperatures, and days earlier Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers deployed 500 National Guard troops to be ready should any violence occur.
In the year since the shootings, many on the right have embraced Rittenhouse as a symbol of heroism during violent protests that shook Kenosha, a city of 100,000 on the shores of Lake Michigan. Others on the left have characterized him as a teen who provoked violence when he traveled here with an AR-15 rifle from his Illinois home.
The protests in Kenosha came in the days after a white police officer shot and paralyzed a Black man, Jacob Blake, after being called to an apartment complex for a domestic violence dispute.
Federal law enforcement and National Guard troops were dispatched across the city for several weeks to deter protesters and protect property.
During the unrest, video presented during the trial showed 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum chasing Rittenhouse through a parking lot before Rittenhouse shot him.
The second man Rittenhouse killed, 26-year-old Anthony Huber, could be seen swinging a skateboard at Rittenhouse's head before attempting to grab his rifle in the middle of a street where hundreds of protesters gathered. Moments later Rittenhouse fired a single shot that hit Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, in the arm. Grosskreutz was carrying a handgun.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors portrayed Rittenhouse as a calculated gunman — at times calling him an "active shooter" — who roamed the streets of Kenosha looking to spark violence.
"You lose the right to self-defense when you're the one who brought the gun, when you are the one creating the danger, when you're the one provoking other people," Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas Binger said in closing arguments.
Meanwhile, for much of the trial, and in closing arguments, Rittenhouse's attorney, Mark Richards, painted the men that the teen shot as the aggressors.
"Every person who was shot was attacking Kyle: One with a skateboard, one with his hands, one with his feet, one with a gun," Richards said in his closing arguments. "My client does not have to take a beating from the hands of this mob."
In a high-stakes move by the defense, Rittenhouse took the stand to tell his side of what happened on the streets that day in the August, at times sobbing.
"I didn't do anything wrong," Rittenhouse said. "I defended myself."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.