The fate of 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who gunned down two men and injured another during a 2020 protest, is in the hands of Wisconsin jurors, who are set to begin deliberations Tuesday morning.
His trial concluded Monday after Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney James Kraus had the last word in a rebuttal of the defense's closing arguments just before 7 p.m.
"It's not up to Mr. Rittenhouse to be the judge and the jury and eventually the executioner," Kraus said. "The only imminent threat that night was Mr. Rittenhouse. ... He’s guilty."
Rittenhouse has argued throughout the trial that he was acting in self-defense amid a chaotic scene when he fatally shot two men on Aug. 25, 2020, during a demonstration that erupted after the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
His life was under threat, defense lawyer Mark Richards told jurors Monday. “Every person who was shot was attacking Kyle,” he said.
In closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger challenged Rittenhouse’s claim of self-defense in gunning down Anthony Huber, 26, and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36.
"They enjoy the thrill of going around and telling people what to do, without the courage or the honor to back it up and without the legal authority to do so," he said.
Rittenhouse, 18, is accused of intentional homicide in the slaying of Huber and reckless homicide in the death of Rosenbaum.
Moments before closing arguments began Monday, Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed a count of illegal possession of a dangerous weapon by a person younger than 18.
The misdemeanor, punishable by up to nine months in jail, was considered one of the prosecution's stronger counts. No one disputes that Rittenhouse was 17 when he walked the streets of Kenosha armed with a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 rifle, part of a genre of firearms modeled after the iconic AR-15 long gun that was initially developed for military use.
But Schroeder cited an exception in the law dealing with hunting, the age of the defendant and the length of the barrel for dismissing the count.
“The reason observers correctly believed the misdemeanor gun charge was a slam dunk is because it’s not disputed that Kyle Rittenhouse was under 17 and that he possessed a gun,” NBC News legal analyst Danny Cevallos said.
“But the criminal statute itself is more complicated than that. For this statute to apply, the defendant had to also violate a hunting regulation that only applied to people under 16. The defense discovered what was essentially an error in the legislation, that Kyle Rittenhouse cannot violate a law that only applies to someone under 16.”
Rittenhouse still faces five other charges stemming from the fatal shootings.
On Monday, Binger played video that appeared to show Rittenhouse putting down a fire extinguisher and raising his weapon. He then re-created that scene for jurors, putting down a water bottle in place of the fire extinguisher, and raised the actual weapon in court.
"That is what provokes this entire incident," Binger said. "When the defendant provokes the incident, he loses the right to self-defense. You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create."
Binger tried to flip the claims of self-defense, saying people in the crowd confronting Rittenhouse that night were the ones protecting themselves.
"I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen, that in this situation the crowd has the right to try to stop an active shooter," he said. "They have a right to protect themselves. The defendant is not the only one in the world who has the right to self-defense."
Defense lawyer Richards bristled at the term "active shooter."
"Ladies and gentlemen, Kyle was not an active shooter," Richards said in his closing argument. "That is a buzzword that the state wants to latch on to because it excuses the actions of the mob."
The defense lawyer also argued that Rittenhouse is the victim of a political prosecution.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a political case,” he said. “The district attorney’s office is marching forward with this case because they need somebody to be responsible. They need somebody to put and say, ‘We did it, he’s the person who brought terror to Kenosha.’ Kyle Rittenhouse is not that individual. The rioters, the demonstrators who turned into rioters. Those are the individuals.”
Richards painted a picture of chaos, trash fires, a "mob," and "a wall of people destroying cars." He described Huber's skateboard as a "deadly weapon," a bystander's flashlight as a potential weapon, and another demonstrator as "armed with a two-by-four."
The defense suggested that Rosenbaum might be a danger to others.
“Kyle shot Joseph Rosenbaum to stop a threat to his person, and I’m glad he shot him, because if Joseph Rosenbaum had got that gun, I don’t for a minute believe he wouldn’t have used it against somebody else,” Richards said. “He was irrational and crazy.”
Rittenhouse walked down a street, intended to "put out the fire" in a trash receptacle, and was being set up by attackers for an "ambush," Richards said.
"The mob has now formed and is chasing him down," he said.
Rittenhouse was headed toward police lights to inform police what had happened when two others in the crowd attacked him, the defense attorney said.
"Kyle is zero threat to anyone," Richards said, describing the defendant's attitude: "Everything’s good — leave me alone, I’m going to the police."
Huber swung his skateboard at Rittenhouse and “tried to take his head off," the lawyer said.
The defense insisted that Rosenbaum was trying to disarm Rittenhouse to use his own weapon against him.
“He was a bad man. He was there. He was causing trouble. He was a rioter, and my client had to deal with him that night alone,” Richards said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Rosenbaum was shot because he was chasing my client and going to kill him, take his gun and carry out the threats he made.”
Huber and Rosenbaum were not armed when Rittenhouse shot them, but Grosskreutz, 27, came toward him with a pistol in hand when Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Illinois, opened fire.
“Mr. Grosskreutz decided he was going to shoot my client. Unfortunately, my client shot him first,” Richards told jurors.
He argued that Wisconsin law protects what Rittenhouse did.
"My client does not have to take a beating from the hands of this mob," Richards said, later concluding that opening fire "was something he was privileged to do."
Earlier in the day, Binger likened the threat the victims posed to Rittenhouse to that of combatants in a barroom brawl.
"You don’t bring a gun to a fistfight," he said. "What the defendant wants you to believe is that, because he’s the one who brought the gun, he gets to kill.”
The prosecution relied heavily on video of the mayhem in Kenosha that night and pictures of the aftermath.
When Binger displayed an autopsy photograph of Rosenbaum’s bloodied body on a gurney and then another image of his mangled hand, some jurors appeared to avert their eyes from courtroom TV monitors.
Binger appeared to notice jurors wincing when he showed bloody pictures of Gaige Grosskreutz, whose right biceps was virtually blown off by Rittenhouse. Grosskreutz is a paramedic from suburban Milwaukee who was volunteering at the protest.
“When you fire an AR-15 at someone at close range, this is what it looks like. I guarantee you, ladies and gentlemen, the defendant had no clue what his gun was capable of," Binger said.
"He didn’t even bother paying any attention to it. He didn’t concern himself with what he would be doing to other people. But this is what happened. Let’s not flinch away from this.”
Binger argued that Rittenhouse had no reason to believe he was about to die or be severely wound, which would have given him the right to kill.
In a highly unusual move, Rittenhouse took the witness stand in his own defense Nov. 10 and insisted that he reasonably feared for his life each time he pulled the trigger.
"Kyle Rittenhouse did not have to take the witness stand to tell his story,” Richards said Monday. “He wanted you, as the jurors, to hear his personal experience on the night of the 25th.”
The trial has drawn national attention. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has put 500 National Guard troops on standby in case local law enforcement agencies need help with crowd control after a verdict