It’s been a year since Kenosha prosecutors charged Kyle Rittenhouse with killing two people and wounding a third during unrest that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Since then the case and its characters have provided a constant stream of intrigue, outrage and propaganda, in both mainstream and niche conservative media outlets where he has been portrayed as a patriot and symbol of run rights as ell as a self-defense hero and boy-next-door.
Rittenhouse, now 18, faces five felonies, a misdemeanor and a curfew ticket from the events of Aug. 25. Using an AR-15-type rifle, he killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz. His lawyers say he acted in lawful self- defense.
Rittenhouse is also charged with endangering the safety of a reporter for The Daily Caller who was recording from nearby when Rosenbaum was shot and an unidentified man Rittenhouse shot at as the man tried to kick him.
What’s happened in the case? Plenty, though the final outcome is still months away.
As ‘Free Kyle’ money poured in, Rittenhouse made $2 million bail
Rittenhouse was arrested after he turned himself into local police in Antioch, Illinois, where he was living at the time. He spent the first months in an Illinois juvenile detention center, while lawyers tried to fight his extradition to Wisconsin.
That didn’t work out, and Rittenhouse was transferred to Kenosha County Jail on Oct. 30.
Almost immediately after he was charged on Aug. 27, his legal team and others began soliciting donations for his defense through social media. Money poured in from around the country. Lawyers spent a good deal of it on the failed extradition battle, but still managed to post $2 million to secure Rittenhouse’s release from jail Nov. 20, 2020.
Since then, Rittenhouse has lived at undisclosed residences in Indiana and Wisconsin. Prosecutors tried to get him arrested for not listing his specific address in the public court record, but the judge agreed it was a safety risk and agreed to have it kept under seal, known only to a few officials.
After a rocky start, Rittenhouse’s supporters still sell merchandise branded as “Free Kyle” to raise more money for his defense.
How did he have an assault-style rifle? Was it legal for him to carry it in Kenosha?
Prosecutors say Dominick Black bought the rifle at a Rusk County hardware store in May when he was 18, but his friend Rittenhouse was only 17, too young to legally purchase the weapon. Rittenhouse, who had been working as a lifeguard in Kenosha, told the Washington Post he used enhanced unemployment money during the pandemic to buy the rifle, a Smith & Wesson M&P 15, that retails for around $800.
The friends shot the guns at Black’s family property up north. Rittenhouse’s rifle was stored at Black’s stepfather’s home in Kenosha, in a safe — until the rioting started in Kenosha. Then the stepfather moved it to the garage, where Rittenhouse was able to retrieve it before he and Black went downtown on Aug. 25.
The pair said they were protecting an automotive business from vandalism. Rittenhouse also said he was offering first aid to anyone injured during the protests.
On one hand, Wisconsin clearly bars someone under 18 from “going armed,” but Rittenhouse’s lawyer cites wording in the statute that appears to carve out an exception for 17-year-olds if the rifle they carry doesn’t have an illegally-short barrel. The judge is expected to rule in September on a defense motion to dismiss the charge of possessing a gun as a minor.
A court commissioner denied the defense argument on this point at the preliminary examination in December.
There’s dramatic video, and both sides see an advantage
Both the prosecution and defense say the many videos of the shootings play strongly in their favor. But as many other cases have shown, even video evidence can be broken down and interpreted in different ways for a jury.
The video shows — and Rittenhouse has admitted — that he shot the victims, but Rittenhouse has raised self-defense. His prior lawyers have said the defense is so obvious that the charges amounted to a political prosecution.
Under Wisconsin law, someone can only lawfully use deadly force if he “reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.”
In deciding necessity, a jury may consider whether Rittenhouse could have further withdrawn or retreated. He was clearly running from Rosenbaum before he shot him. Rittenhouse’s supporters say he got boxed in among some cars by other protesters and had no choice but to fire when Rosenbaum tried to grab his rifle.
Video shows Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha on the night three protestors were shot
Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with shooting three people — two of them fatally — during a Kenosha protest Tuesday night,
Brendan Gutenschwager via Storyful, Wochit
He was walking toward police after shooting Rosenbaum when he was attacked by others. After killing Anthony Huber and shooting Gaige Grosskreutz in the arm, Rittenhouse got up and continued toward police with his arms up, but they told him to get out of the street.
Black drove him home to Antioch, Illinois, where he lived with his mother and sisters, and then turned himself in to local police.
When self-defense is raised, it will be up to prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it doesn’t apply, that Rittenhouse’s belief that he would be killed or seriously hurt was not reasonable in the circumstances.
Rittenhouse’s attorneys have contended he was in particular fear during his encounter with Rosenbaum because someone fired a shot nearby right before Rittenhouse decided to shoot. That person is Joshua Ziminski, who was standing with Rosenbaum right before he chased after Rittenhouse, and now faces his own charges from that evening.
The state’s longest serving active judge is hearing the case
Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder is presiding over Rittenhouse’s case, and also that of Black, who is charged with providing Rittenhouse the rifle. He has been on the bench since 1983, when he was appointed by then-Gov. Anthony Earl, and has been elected to the seat ever since, making him the longest-serving active circuit judge in the state. His current term expires in 2026.
Schroeder has turned down prosecutors’ request to arrest Rittenhouse and raise his $2 million bail. The judge ignored activists’ calls that he resign over the bail decision.
A carousel of defense lawyers turned into a sideshow
The story of Rittenhouse’s legal team, from the very start, became a sideshow to the case. Atlanta defamation lawyer Lin Wood first latched onto the family, and brought in John Pierce, a civil litigator from Los Angeles with a trainload of personal baggage. The pair flogged social media and conservative outlets to raise money, some of which went to Rittenhouse’s bail, but some of which remains unaccounted for, according to Wendy Rittenhouse, Kyle’s mother.
As he became consumed with the big lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump, Wood bowed out of the Rittenhouse case, and the family fired Pierce in February. Lately, they’ve relaunched attacks against Pierce on Twitter and elsewhere, demanding that he assure that if and when Rittenhouse is acquitted, the $2 million bail will be returned to Rittenhouse, not Pierce, who posted via a check drawn on his law firm’s account.
Now another media hound LA lawyer, Robert Barnes, claims to have taken over the civil and public relations, but also spends a great deal of his internet face time on other topics dear to conservatives.
Working quietly beneath all the media posturing have been Mark Richards and Corey Chirafisi, seasoned criminal defense attorneys from Racine and Madison, respectively. They have handled the hearings and motions and would be at Rittenhouse’s side at trial.
So far, the case has been handled by Kenosha County Assistant District Attorneys Thomas Binger and Jason Zapf, not elected District Attorney Michael Graveley. But Zapf just left the office, so another prosecutor is likely to team up with Binger going forward.
Will there be a trial?
As of now, trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 1 in Kenosha. There are pending motions by the state to introduce evidence that Rittenhouse punched a girl who was fighting with his sister a few weeks before the shootings, and that he was hanging out with Proud Boys in January. The Proud Boys are a far-right extremist group. The defense says those facts are irrelevant to the shooting, and prejudicial.
Schroeder must also decide the defense motion to dismiss the charge that, as a minor, Rittenhouse was unlawfully possessing a rifle on Aug. 25, 2021.
Did Rittenhouse act in self-defense?
Rittenhouse’s supporters point to video as evidence that he acted clearly in self-defense that he shouldn’t have been charged. One former attorney called the case the most important about self defense and the Second Amendment in Anglo-American legal history.
But prosecutors viewed the same video as clear evidence of reckless homicide, even attempted and successful intentional homicide.
Rittenhouse’s first victim, Joseph Rosenbaum, was chasing Rittenhouse, but was unarmed. His second victim, Anthony Huber, had attacked and struck Rittenhouse with a skateboard, and his third victim, Gaige Grosskreutz, was armed with handgun as he approached Rittenhouse.
Prosecutors will have to convince jurors that Rittenhouse was not reasonably fearing for his own life at the time he shot the men.
In Wisconsin, a person generally can use force to stop “what he reasonably believes to be an unlawful interference with his or her person.”
Deadly force may only be employed if Rittenhouse “reasonably believed” it was the only way to prevent his own death or great bodily harm.
If prosecutors convince jurors that Rittenhouse, by walking around with a rifle, and then by shooting Rosenbaum, provoked the other attacks, he would have to show not only the reasonable belief that he was in danger of being killed or seriously hurt, but also that he exhausted every other reasonable means to escape or avoid that danger.
Some might argue that Rittenhouse — by walking around with an assault-style rife — provoked the other demonstrators, or that his shooting of Rosenbaum provoked the others who came after him.
Is Rittenhouse a vigilante, militia member or Proud Boy?
Prosecutors have asked to introduce evidence that Rittenhouse went to lunch after a January court hearing with several Proud Boys, and later to Miami — as reported by The New Yorker — where he was picked up at the airport by Enrique Tarrio, a leader of the group.
Rittenhouse supporters say he had no connection to the Proud Boys or any militia group and went to Kenosha with his friend only to protect an auto business from further vandalism.
Early in the case, Rittenhouse’s former lawyer and various backers on social media promoted him as a patriot and a symbol of gun rights advocacy. But in recent months, his fanboy Twitter accounts have dialed back, and his main image handler has shopped him carefully to some national news outlets, trying to stress his self-defense and the image of a boy-next-door.
Are there civil lawsuits?
Three different lawsuits over the violence and arrests were filed against authorities, and one also named Rittenhouse, but all have been dismissed. New wrongful death actions could be filed within three years of the shootings. Four protesters have also sued Kenosha county and city officials over how they enforced a curfew, which they say led to the presence and activity by armed participants like Rittenhouse. That case remains pending.
It doesn’t appear that Rittenhouse or his mother, Wendy, ever filed the many defamation suits she and lawyers had been threatening early in the case over what they said were portrayals of Rittenhouse as belonging to a militia, or being a white supremacist.