Kyle Rittenhouse, the American teenager, who shot dead two men during protests and riots against police brutality in Wisconsin last year, was acquitted of all charges on Friday after a high-profile and politically divisive trial.
A jury found Rittenhouse, 18, not guilty of reckless and intentional homicide and other charges stemming from the shootings that took place in August 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Rittenhouse, who said the shootings were self-defense, sobbed and shook as the verdict was read, sank into his chair and embraced his lawyer before rushing out of the courtroom.
There were scattered cheers and clapping from supporters of Rittenhouse outside
the Kenosha courthouse after the verdict.
Rittenhouse testified during the two-week trial that he shot dead two men and wounded another with his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle after being attacked.
Prosecutors dismissed the self-defense claim, saying it was the then 17-year-old Rittenhouse who “provoked” the events during a night of unrest in Kenosha.
Rittenhouse faced five charges — one count of intentional homicide, one count of reckless homicide, one count of attempted intentional homicide and two counts of recklessly endangering safety.
The most serious charge — intentional homicide — carried a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
The jury deliberated for four days before delivering a unanimous verdict of not guilty on all counts.
The case drew national attention because it arose from the “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations that swept the country last year and featured a controversial mix of guns, racial tensions and vigilantism.
Civil unrest erupted in Kenosha, a city of 100,000 on the shores of Lake Michigan, in August 2020 after a white policeman shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, several times during an arrest, leaving him paralyzed.
In right-wing and pro-gun circles, Rittenhouse, who claimed he went to Kenosha to protect businesses from looters and act as a medic, was painted as a heroic figure.
Prosecutors said Rittenhouse — who lived in the neighboring state of Illinois — had come to Kenosha as a self-appointed “junior policeman” and “made a series of reckless decisions.”
“Nobody deputized him,” prosecutor Thomas Binger said.
Asked by White House reporters about the verdict, President Joe Biden said: “I stand by what the jury has to say. The jury system works.”
Shannon Watts, founder of gun control group Moms Demand Action, was among those denouncing the not guilty verdict.
“That a teenager could travel across state lines to a protest he had nothing to do with; shoot three people, killing two; and face no criminal consequences is a miscarriage of justice and an indictment of our criminal justice system,” Watts said.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the verdict “disgusting.”
“It sends a horrible message to this country,” De Blasio said. “To call this a miscarriage of justice is an understatement.”
The NAACP, the African-American civil rights group, said the verdict is a “travesty and fails to deliver justice on behalf of those who lost their lives.”
“A system that legitimizes vigilante murder is deeply broken,” tweeted Wisconsin Representative Gwen Moore, a Democrat.
Republican lawmakers welcomed the not guilty finding.
“Justice has been served,” said Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson. “I hope everyone can accept the verdict, remain peaceful, and let the community of Kenosha heal and rebuild.”
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has put 500 members of the state National Guard on standby in the event of trouble.