The Kyle Rittenhouse Trial, Explained
Mr. Rittenhouse will stand trial for the shootings of three men — two of whom died — in the aftermath of demonstrations in Kenosha, Wis.,
Kyle Rittenhouse, an 18-year-old from Antioch, Ill., will stand trial on Nov. 1 for the shootings of three men — two of whom died — in the aftermath of demonstrations in Kenosha, Wis., in August 2020.
The protests in Kenosha erupted after Rusten Sheskey, a Kenosha police officer, shot and wounded Jacob Blake. The episode was captured on cellphone video and came only months after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis set off protests nationally about police abuse of Black Americans.
Kenosha, a former industrial hub of 100,000 people on the western shore of Lake Michigan, experienced widespread looting, arson and property destruction in the days after the police shooting. The shootings by Mr. Rittenhouse, which he contends were committed in self-defense, occurred on the third night of protests.
Mr. Rittenhouse faces six counts, including homicide charges. Here is what has happened in the case.
Who is Kyle Rittenhouse?
When the protests over the shooting of Mr. Blake took place, Mr. Rittenhouse was a 17-year-old who lived with his mother in Antioch, a small town in Illinois just over the Wisconsin border.
Long before the shooting, his social media was filled with posts supporting the police and Blue Lives Matter. Mr. Rittenhouse had also served as a cadet in a program for young aspiring police officers.
He had some ties to Kenosha, despite living in a different state: His father lived in the city and Mr. Rittenhouse had worked as a lifeguard in Kenosha County.
He also kept a military-style semiautomatic rifle in Wisconsin, which the authorities said was purchased for him by a friend.
Why was Mr. Rittenhouse in Kenosha?
Mr. Rittenhouse had been closely following news of the shooting of Mr. Blake, which occurred when officers had arrived at an apartment in response to a domestic complaint and tried to arrest Mr. Blake, who is Black. As Mr. Blake, who was holding a knife, tried to climb into an S.U.V., Officer Sheskey, who is white, grabbed him and fired seven times into his back, leaving him crumpled on the ground.
The shooting immediately sparked demonstrations in Kenosha. On the second night of protests, there was widespread destruction in the city’s downtown and Uptown neighborhood, where several blocks of businesses were looted and burned to the ground.
The destruction prompted a response from some people in Kenosha — and outside of the city — who owned guns. They organized on Facebook and vowed to protect the city and assist the police and National Guard members, who appeared outnumbered. By the third night of protests, Mr. Rittenhouse had joined a group of armed men who said they were there to protect businesses.
“Part of my job also is to protect people,” Mr. Rittenhouse said on the evening of the fatal shootings, in an interview with The Daily Caller. “If someone is hurt, I’m running into harm’s way. That’s why I have my rifle; I’ve got to protect myself obviously. But I also have my med kit.”
Understand the Trial of Kyle Rittenhouse
Kyle Rittenhouse is an Illinois teenager on trial for the killing of two people protesting the shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wis. Here is what you need to know:
- The Shooting of Jacob Blake: When a police officer shot a 29-year-old Black man in the back in August 2020 leaving him partly paralyzed, it provoked calls for racial justice, as well as armed counterprotesters.
- Tracking the Defendant: The New York Times’s Visual Investigations unit analyzed hours of footage to track Mr. Rittenhouse’s movements during the shootings. Footage shows the teenager shooting at three people.
- A New Era of Political Violence: What brought Mr. Rittenhouse and so many others to the streets of Kenosha equipped for war?
- Kenosha, a Year Later: The city’s downtown today bears little trace of the past unrest. But the community of Uptown appears frozen in time since that night in August.
Wisconsin is an open-carry state, meaning that people can carry legal firearms in public without a permit, unless they are otherwise prohibited from possessing them. But with certain exceptions for hunting, minors are not allowed to carry weapons in public.
What happened that night?
By the early evening of Tuesday, Aug. 25, demonstrations had filled Civic Center Park in Kenosha’s downtown, across from the heavily barricaded courthouse that was defended by police officers and National Guard members.
The night had an unruly feel: Men were driving on motorcycles across the grassy park through groups of protesters, and others had arrived dressed as soldiers, wearing camouflage and carrying rifles with ammunition strapped to their chests.
The men said they were there as part of a Kenosha militia, self-appointed to protect the city from damage.
During hours of demonstrations, protesters of the police shooting threw fireworks and water bottles at police officers, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. The protesters were eventually driven out of Civic Center Park and down Sheridan Road, one of Kenosha’s main thoroughfares with stores, gas stations, churches and a hospital.
Most of the protesters had left the area by late evening. But some remained on Sheridan Road, occasionally scuffling and arguing with several dozen people who said they were defending the city.
Video taken that night showed Mr. Rittenhouse milling around and offering medical assistance to protesters. Shortly before midnight, he was chased by Joseph Rosenbaum, who had come downtown that night and joined the crowd, into the parking lot of a car dealership.
As Mr. Rittenhouse ran into the parking lot, a man nearby fired a handgun into the air. Mr. Rittenhouse turned in the direction of the gunfire, just as Mr. Rosenbaum lunged at him. Mr. Rittenhouse then fired four times, shooting Mr. Rosenbaum in the head, the video shows.
Mr. Rittenhouse fled down Sheridan Road, with at least a dozen members of the crowd in pursuit. One person could be heard in the video yelling, “That’s the shooter!”
At one point, Mr. Rittenhouse tripped and fell, then shot at two more people who were chasing him — Anthony Huber, who was killed, and Gaige Grosskreutz, who was shot in the arm but survived.
Mr. Rittenhouse walked toward police vehicles with his arms raised, but they drove past him, trying to reach the people who had been shot.
Who was killed or injured?
Two men were killed: Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha, and Anthony Huber, 26, who lived in Kenosha County. Gaige Grosskreutz, a medic from West Allis, Wis., was shot in the arm but survived.
In pretrial hearings, Judge Bruce Schroeder of Kenosha County Circuit Court, who is presiding over the trial, reiterated a longstanding rule on criminal cases in his courtroom: that the word “victims” may not be used before the jury in reference to those killed or injured. But — in a blow to the prosecution — he said that if he would allow the terms “looters” and “rioters” to be used to refer to the Mr. Rosenbaum, Mr. Huber and Mr. Grosskreutz, if the defense was able to establish evidence that they were engaged in those activities that night.
What are the charges?
Mr. Rittenhouse has been charged with six criminal counts, including first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide. The homicide charges, which are equivalent to what others states call murder charges, carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Lawyers for Mr. Rittenhouse have attempted to have a charge of carrying the weapon illegally as a minor removed, but a judge denied their request. The maximum penalty for that offense is nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine.
After being charged, Mr. Rittenhouse became a cause celebre to some conservatives, who praised him for trying to protect businesses from damage by patrolling downtown Kenosha with a military-style rifle. His $2 million cash bail was collected through online fund-raising.