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A jury has found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on all charges, including first-degree intentional homicide, stemming from the fatal shootings of two men and the wounding of another during a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year.
Rittenhouse fell into his chair and hugged his attorney, Corey Chirafisi, as the verdict was read.
Prior to the verdict, Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder warned against people’s emotional response, according to CNN.
“There can’t be any reaction at all, no matter how strongly you may feel, and it’s understood that many people do have strong feelings,” said Schroeder. “But we can’t permit any kind of reaction to the verdict.”
The unrest on Aug. 23, 2020, stemmed from the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was left paralyzed after police officer Rusten Sheskey shot him seven times, including four times in the back.
Federal prosecutors declined to press charges against Sheskey, who is white.
Taking place only months after the murder of George Floyd, calls for police reform and an examination of institutional racism were sparked in America. On the third night of unrest in Kenosha, Rittenhouse, then 17, drove from his home in Illinois to join others in allegedly protecting businesses from damage caused by possible rioters.
That night, after getting into a confrontation, he fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, using an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle. Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, was wounded. Videos from several points of view were submitted into the trial.
In January, Rittenhouse pleaded not guilty to charges of intentional homicide, as his lawyers argued he'd been acting in self-defense. Rittenhouse testified on his own behalf, breaking down in tears on the stand as he told the court, “I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself.”
The trial has been covered extensively in the media, owing to polarized opinions that have formed around the case: conservative figures have voiced their wishes to see Rittenhouse freed, while demonstrators in Kenosha called the trial unfair, citing racism as a factor.
“I’m here to support the calls for Kyle to go to prison for a very long time,” said one demonstrator, according to Fox News.
Political leaders ordered approximately 500 Wisconsin National Guard troops on standby, pending Friday’s verdict, according to Fox 6.
Jurors in the politicized and racially charged trial deliberated for four days before reaching a verdict of not guilty.
“All of you – I couldn’t have asked for a better jury to work with, and it has truly been my pleasure,” Judge Schroeder said after Rittenhouse’s acquittal, according to CNN. “I think without commenting on your verdict.. the verdict themselves, just in terms of your attentiveness and the cooperation that you gave to us justifies the confidence that the founders of our country placed in you.”
Sentiments of anger and disappointment are ringing across social media platforms such as Twitter, where many are calling the acquittal a case of white privilege.
Jacob Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake, joined a chorus of protesters standing outside the courthouse, according to CNN.
“We want the nation to know, the nation that you live in now isn’t the… United States that we used to live in,” said Blake.
The family of Anthony Huber, issued a lengthy statement, as published by ABC affiliate WISN News.
“We are heartbroken and angry that Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted in his criminal trial for the murder of our son, Anthony Huber,” said family. “There was no justice today for Anthony, or for Mr. Rittenhouse’s other victims, Joseph Rosenbaum and Gaige Grosskreutz.”
The family said that attending the trial was something they “could not bear,” citing the videos that captured their son’s shooting death. They said they still watched the trial, however, in hopes that it could bring closure.
“That did not happen,” the family continued. “Today’s verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered our son. It sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street.”
President Biden addressed the verdict following a routine medical exam, while admitting that he did not watch the trial, according to CNN.
“Look, I stand by what the jury has concluded,” said Biden. “The jury system works and we have to abide by it.
Meanwhile, conservative Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch, announced her satisfaction with the verdict.
“Our justice system worked today,” tweeted Kleefisch. “The prosecution in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial was a complete disgrace, praising the mob who burned our streets as ‘heroes.'”
Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger expressed disappointment in the jury’s decision, while also calling for peace.
“We are grateful to the members of the jury for their diligent and thoughtful deliberations," said Binger. “The Kenosha community has endured much over the past 15 months, and yet we remain resilient and strong. We ask that members of our community continue to express their opinions and feelings about this verdict in a civil and peaceful manner.”
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