Kyle Rittenhouse's Trial Hinges on One Question

Did he act in self-defense when he fatally shot 2 men in Kenosha?
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 1, 2021 9:19 AM CDT
Kyle Rittenhouse's Fate Hinges on Self-Defense
Kyle Rittenhouse with one of his attorneys, Natalie Wisco, at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., in this Oct. 25 photo.   (Sean Krajacic/The Kenosha News, Pool via AP, File)

The Kyle Rittenhouse case is a politically volatile one, but the homicide trial that begins Monday in Kenosha, Wis., will focus on a relatively straightforward question: Did he act in self-defense? If the jury doesn't think so, the 18-year-old from Illinois faces life in prison for killing two men and wounding a third last year. Coverage:

  • The background: Rittenhouse came to Kenosha from his Illinois home about 20 miles away amid protests over the fatal police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake. He joined other armed civilians patrolling the streets, pledging to protect businesses from violence. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a detailed timeline of events.
  • First shooting: On the night of Aug. 25, Rittenhouse fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, then 26, with an AR-style rifle. That he did so is not in dispute. But the prosecution will present witnesses and video to buttress their case that Rosenbaum—the first to be shot—chased Rittenhouse into a used-car lot and attempted to take his gun before the teen fired.

  • Other shootings: After Rosenbaum was shot, others began following Rittenhouse, according to the Washington Post, which has this narrative: "When Rittenhouse fell to the ground, he fired at one man and missed; Huber approached, swinging his skateboard toward Rittenhouse, who fired into his chest. ... When Grosskreutz (who had drawn a pistol) moved forward, Rittenhouse fired a bullet that took a chunk out of his right arm."
  • The 2 sides: “It’s a battle of the narratives,” law professor Steven Wright of the University of Wisconsin tells the New York Times. “People will either see this as a young man who came across state lines with a weapon intending to do trouble, or people will come with the belief that he came here with a medical kit and attempted to defend the law and defend people."
  • The law: In Wisconsin, someone can legally use deadly force if he “reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself," per the Times. In an interview with the Post last year, Rittenhouse said he thinks he would have died that night if he hadn't been armed. Prosecutors will have to show that his belief was unreasonable.
  • 'Culture wars': The judge in the case has promised that this will not be a "political trial" and will instead focus on the facts of Aug. 25, per the AP. But the analysis digs into how Rittenhouse has "personified America's polarization" since his arrest. He is championed on the right as a hero and vilified on the left as a foe of the Black Lives Matter movement. “It’s another battle in what has become the central story of our time—-the culture wars,” says John Baick, who teaches modern American history at Western New England University in Springfield, Mass.
(More Kyle Rittenhouse stories.)

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