The prosecution kicked off closing arguments Monday in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, aiming to convince the jury that the teenager opened fire during protests in Kenosha, Wis., without justification and after provoking a conflict.
Rittenhouse is charged with felony homicide related to the killings of two men and attempted felony homicide for wounding a third in the summer of 2020.
Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger argued that Rittenhouse instigated the first shooting by pointing his weapon at people, and caused the subsequent encounters by creating an “active shooter” situation in which protesters felt an urgency to disarm him.
“If you created the danger, you forfeit the right to self-defence by bringing that gun, aiming it at people, threatening people’s lives,” said Binger, who tried to demonstrate this by lifting up the weapon in front of the jury.
“The defendant provoked everything,” he said.
Rittenhouse’s lawyer, Mark Richards, countered that the shooting started after the young man was ambushed by a “crazy person” that night and feared his gun — a semi-automatic AR-15-style rifle — was going to be wrested away and used to kill him. In his final address to the jury, Richards said Rittenhouse acted in self-defence.
The trial is part of the most closely watched case involving a civilian’s right to self-defence since George Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013 in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager.
Like Zimmerman, Rittenhouse has emerged as a divisive figure, viewed as heroic by some conservatives who favour expansive gun rights and as a symbol of an out-of-control American gun culture by many on the left.
Rittenhouse, 18, is charged with killing Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and for wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, who turned 28 this month, on Aug. 25, 2020.
The shootings took place during protests — marred by arson, rioting and looting — that followed the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, who was left paralyzed from the waist down.
Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty and testified last week that he acted in self-defence. He faces life in prison if convicted. He was 17 at the time of the shootings.
Weapons charge dismissed
With the defence’s closing arguments, the jury began deliberations and will attempt to form a consensus on guilt or innocence.
The closing arguments were the lawyers’ last chance to influence a jury which has heard evidence supporting Rittenhouse’s argument that he was attacked before he fired his rifle.
In his testimony, the teen, at times losing his composure and crying, said he did not want to kill anyone that night.
Earlier Monday, the trial judge dismissed a misdemeanor charge against Rittenhouse for illegally possessing the rifle he used in the shootings.
Judge Bruce Schroeder sided with the defence argument that there were exceptions in the law that appeared to allow for Rittenhouse to possess the semi-automatic rifle.
While a misdemeanor charge, its dismissal carries symbolic significance for a case that has captured the attention of the public in part because it involved a teenager roaming the streets with a semi-automatic rifle who was not immediately brought into custody by the police in Kenosha.