The decision to put Kyle Rittenhouse on the stand in his own homicide trial wasn’t even a close call, his attorney said Friday, shortly after a jury acquitted him of all charges for killing two people and shooting another during unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year.
“We had a mock jury and we did two different juries, one with him testifying and one without him testifying. It was substantially better when he testified… and that sealed it,” said defense attorney Mike Richards. “If you don’t put a client on the stand, you’re going to lose, period.”
The jury found Rittenhouse not guilty in the killings of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, who were demonstrating in Kenosha on August 25, 2020, after police shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, who became paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the injury.
Rittenhouse was also found not guilty for wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, now 27, who was at the protests.
The acquittal outraged the victims’ loved ones and others as the highly contentious case highlighted a national divide between those who saw Rittenhouse as a justice vigilante and those who viewed him as a citizen taking up arms to protect businesses from looters and rioters.
The verdict led to some protests late Friday.
In Portland, authorities said demonstrators forced open the gate to the county’s downtown jail. The crowd “launched urine, alcoholic beverages, water bottles and batteries at deputies during the event,” the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release early Saturday.
There were also demonstrations against the verdict in New York City and Oakland, California.
“(The verdict) 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,” the family of Anthony Huber said in a statement.
But defense attorneys argued Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, acted in self-defense.
And in his only public remarks following the verdict, Rittenhouse echoed the sentiment.
“The jury reached the correct verdict. Self-defense is not illegal. I believe they came to the correct verdict and I’m glad that everything went well,” he said in a video promoting a Tucker Carlson Originals special on the case.
“It’s been a rough journey, but we made it through it. We made it through the hard part.”
Richards told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that Rittenhouse wouldn’t have gone out that night to Kenosha if he had known the shootings would unfold.
“Kyle said, ‘If I had to do it all over again and had any idea something like this could happen, I wouldn’t do it,’” Richards said. “I want to be clear. That is not regret for what he did that night under those circumstances,” adding that morally Rittenhouse “wishes he didn’t have to do it.”
Rittenhouse faced five felonies: first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety – and was acquitted on all the charges.
Verdict was not a surprise to legal experts
Some legal experts said the verdict was not a surprise.
Putting Rittenhouse on the stand gave jurors the ability to hear what he thought at the time and whether he believed he was in danger – a claim the prosecution, ultimately failed to undermine, former federal prosecutor Elie Honig said.
“The prosecution did not make enough of a dent in Kyle Rittenhouse,” Honig added. “Every time he shot, he was attacked.”
The trial came down to two competing narratives, said civil rights attorney Charles F. Coleman Jr. “The jury bought the narrative of Kyle Rittenhouse being a victim, they thought that his self-defense claim was a lot stronger than the prosecution’s provocation claim,” he said.
The jury, which was comprised of five men and seven women, reached their unanimous verdict after deliberating for more than 25 hours over four days in the highly scrutinized case. The verdict cannot be appealed.
After rewatching video evidence from the night of the shootings during deliberation, the jury ultimately agreed with Rittenhouse’s testimony that he feared for his life and acted in self-defense.
Victims’ loved ones frustrated with lack of accountability
The families of the victims expressed deep frustration with how the justice system handled the case.
“Today’s verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered our son,” Huber’s family said. “We did not attend the trial because we could not bear to sit in a courtroom and repeatedly watch videos of our son’s murder.”
Huber’s girlfriend, Hannah Gittings, said those who were involved in the protests last year weren’t that surprised.
“We know that this system is a failure,” she said. “Personally, I am especially not surprised at the outcome of this verdict.”
A criminal complaint shows that Huber reached for Rittenhouse’s gun with his hand while holding the skateboard in the other. Huber’s great aunt, Susan Hughes, said her nephew saw Rittenhouse as an active shooter and was trying to stop him.
“That is the Anthony I knew. He was very much a person who would jump into action,” Hughes told CNN.
“Kyle gets into a situation over his head in terms of his emotional maturity to handle it, walks away after killing two people and serious maiming another one. That doesn’t seem equitable,” she said. “People have a right to self-defense. … Anthony had a right to his life as well.”
Kariann Swart, the fiancée of Joseph Rosenbaum, said she feels the victims’ lives didn’t matter in this case.
“If one person’s life or two persons’ lives don’t matter, then none of our lives matter,” Swart said. “And I don’t think that that is acceptable.”
President Joe Biden acknowledged that the verdict “will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included,” he said that everyone “must acknowledge that the jury has spoken.”
Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris said “clearly there’s a lot more work to do” to make the criminal justice system more equitable.
CNN’s Raja Razek, Chris Boyette, Andy Rose, Sara Sidner, Leinz Vales, Jason Kravarik, Nikki Carvajal, Elise Hammond and Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.