Does the Rittenhouse acquittal set a precedent? Two experts weigh in

Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager on trial for killing two people and shooting and wounding a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was acquitted by a jury Friday on all counts. The now 18-year-old faced five charges, including intentional homicide, reckless endangerment and use of a weapon. NPR correspondent David Schafer and attorney Julius Kim join Judy Woodruff to discuss the case.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager on trial for killing two people and shooting and wounding a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was acquitted by a jury today on all counts.

    The now 18-year-old faced five charges, including intentional homicide, reckless endangerment of public safety and use of a weapon. The case was watched around the nation, and the jury delivered its verdict early this afternoon.

  • Woman:

    we, the jury, find the defendant, Kyle H. Rittenhouse, not guilty.

  • Judge Bruce Schroeder, Kenosha County Circuit Court:

    Members of the jury, are these your unanimous verdicts? Is there anyone who does not agree with the verdicts as read?

    Would you wish the jury polled?

  • Man:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Rittenhouse shot three people, two of them, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, fatally, after protests and riots broke out in Kenosha in August 2020.

    That civil unrest had been triggered by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black resident, three days before. Rittenhouse, then 17, drove from his home in Illinois to Kenosha and walked the streets with a semiautomatic rifle.

    He claimed he was attacked and shot in self-defense. The case became a flash point in the debate over whether Rittenhouse was a vigilante or defending himself.

    Rittenhouse's attorney, Mark Richards, spoke after the verdict.

  • Mark Richards, Attorney For Kyle Rittenhouse:

    Kyle is not here. He's on his way home. He wants to get on with his life. He has a huge sense of relief for what the jury did to him today.

    The story that came out at the beginning was not the true story, and that was something that we had to work to overcome in court, and we think we did that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Victim Anthony Huber's parents issued a statement this afternoon: "Today's verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered our son."

  • They wrote:

    "It sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street."

    President Biden said in a statement that he joined other Americans who are angry and concerned over the verdict, but said it was important to abide by the jury's decision peacefully.

    Joining me now is David Schaper, a correspondent for NPR, and Wisconsin attorney Julius Kim. He's a former assistant district attorney in Milwaukee County.

    Welcome to both of you.

    And, David Schaper, I'm going to start with you.

    I know you were at the courthouse when this verdict came down. Tell us what you saw of reaction to it.

  • David Schaper, NPR:

    Well, it's a sharply divided reaction.

    You have people on both sides of the political aisle and both sides of the spectrum in terms of what they thought of Kyle Rittenhouse and whether or not he was guilty. There were some people who celebrated immediately. Some people drove by the courthouse honking horns, and there was a significant amount of people who were very upset and very angry when they heard the verdict.

    And those are the folks who are speaking out and probably demonstrating. I think there was a protest going on as we speak. So we're going to see a little bit more shouting and protesting over this violence here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Julius Kim, you are, as we said, a former prosecutor.

    Was this a hard case for the DA, for the prosecution to make?

  • Julius Kim, Former Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney:


    I think that we could all tell that it was going to be a difficult case as the trial progressed, because we got to see some of the evidence ourselves. And when we put our eyes to the evidence and saw the videos in this case, we realized, whoa, there might be more to this situation than we were first aware of.

    The videos in particular show Joseph Rosenbaum pursuing Kyle Rittenhouse right before the first shooting. And, secondly, right before the Anthony Huber shooting and Gaige Grosskreutz shooting, it — the videos showed Kyle Rittenhouse, for all intents and purposes, being attacked, not only by Anthony Huber, but by other people, and that he was in a vulnerable position when Gaige Grosskreutz walked up to him with a handgun in his hand.

    And, right there, I think all could tell that this was going to be a difficult case and that the state's witnesses weren't going to be perfect in this particular case.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Gaige Grosskreutz, of course, is the — was the third individual who was shot and injured he recovered and then testified at the trial.

    David Schaper, I want to come back to you.

    There was a comment during the trial about the judge and what seemed to be his pointed rebukes of the prosecutor, of the district attorney in the case. What did you see about that? And what sort of reaction was that getting during the trial?

  • David Schaper:

    Well, there was a lot of people who thought that the — there was a lot of animosity — maybe not animosity — that's probably the wrong word — but there was a lot of tension in that courtroom between the judge and the prosecution.

    The judge clearly felt that the prosecutor went over the line and his questioning of Kyle Rittenhouse. And the folks outside of the courthouse believed that the judge was a little slanted in favor of Rittenhouse and the defense.

    I don't know that if you look at the record that that's really true. My knowledge of the courts here in Wisconsin and really across the country is, judges really do try to work hard to be fair to both sides. But he clearly felt that that line of questioning was a little out of bounds and made his displeasure known.

    It would have been interesting to see, had there been a conviction on any of the counts, if the judge would have declared a mistrial, as the defense had had motioned for.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Julius Kim, I don't know whether you have experienced with the judge or not, but what was your take on the judge's handling of this of this case? And what were your expectations as you listened to the arguments?

  • Julius Kim:

    Yes, a lot of — much ado has been made about Judge Schroeder's rulings and some of the things he's been — he did in court. He played "Jeopardy." He loves to tell anecdotes and tell little stories.

    But what I was looking at more and focusing more on were his legal rulings. And Judge Schroeder has been around a long time. He's the oldest serving judge in the state of Wisconsin, and he does things his way, which is his prerogative. It's his courtroom, and he's entitled to have a certain personality.

    But in terms of the rulings themselves, I don't think anyone can debate or argue the fact that he is a thoughtful judge. That may be part of the critique, is that he tends to think aloud sometimes. But he gives both sides an opportunity to argue their positions. He always says, OK, state, do you have a response? Defense, do you have a response?

    And so some of the rulings might not — not everyone may have agreed with his rulings, but, in the end, I thought that they were generally fair, and there was some logic behind it. And this is just a matter of people not realizing that the judge has the power to make these decisions during the course of a trial. And he exercised them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Julius Kim, just staying with you, we're now hearing comment, including from the parents of one of the victims, concern about whether this set some kind of precedent, either officially or unofficially, to the rest of the country that it's OK to bring a gun to a protest.

    From a legal standpoint, is there precedent here in some way?

  • Julius Kim:

    I don't think there's any specific precedent as it relates to this case moving forward.

    But people tend to see verdicts like this as messages. And there are a lot of people, I imagine, that now feel emboldened to march right into the middle of a protest or a riot or whatever you want to call it with an AR-15 because they can.

    But I think that that's a dangerous thought process, because this was a very, very unique case, in that we had very specific facts in this case. We had video evidence showing exactly what precipitated the shootings in this case, and that might not happen in every situation.

    And so if people get the notion that they can show up to a protest with a long gun, and that the law will somehow protect them as a matter of course, I think that would be a mistake.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David Schaper, back to you finally.

    You said earlier there's an expectation or question about whether there will be protests today, tonight into the evening. What do you know about that? And what are the expectations there in Kenosha?

  • David Schaper:

    Well, I do think this verdict, to some of the folks who have been involved in the protest movement here in Kenosha, have told me that they are a little bit more concerned than they were prior to this whole incident, is that, yes, there might be people out there with guns who might feel a little bit emboldened.

    Some people have told me they no longer feel safe in their own community. There are — I think they do feel that they need to make their voices heard. And their voices need to be heard on a broader set of issues in terms of racial justice, in terms of equality of opportunity in a community like this.

    And Southeast Wisconsin has some of the widest racial disparities in the entire country. And they want to make their voices heard. They do want to get out there and protest. But I — there's a little bit of angst over that and what could possibly happen if violence does rear its ugly head here again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we certainly hope that's not the case, but I know that you and other reporters are going to be following this. And we certainly will be following what happens in the Kenosha area going forward.

    David Schaper, thank you very much. And, Julius Kim, we appreciate it. Thank you.

  • Julius Kim:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • David Schaper:

    Thank you.

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