KENOSHA, Wis. (CN) — The judge presiding over the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse on Monday dismissed the gun charge the teen faced for being underage while publicly carrying the semiautomatic rifle he used to kill two and injure a third at a Kenosha, Wisconsin, protest last year, leaving five felonies for the jury to deliberate over after closing arguments.
Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder – who has drawn scrutiny and criticism for some of his actions during the high-profile trial – began jury instructions Monday morning by telling the jurors not to consider the misdemeanor gun charge Rittenhouse faced for being under 18 when possessing the AR-15 he wielded on Aug. 25, 2020, the night of the shootings.
Rittenhouse’s defense attorneys, Corey Chirafisi of Madison and Mark Richards of Racine, have long argued a loophole in the confusingly worded Wisconsin gun law relevant to the case allowed then-17-year-old Rittenhouse to possess the AR-15 in public because it is not a short-barreled rifle or shotgun.
The state, led by Assistant Kenosha County District Attorneys Thomas Binger and James Kraus, unsuccessfully countered that such an exception only applies to minor teens who are hunting and have proper hunting certification. Kraus reiterated Monday ahead of jury instructions that the defense’s interpretation “essentially swallows the whole statute.”
Schroeder sided with the defense, reestablishing for the record that he has problems with the statute’s wording. The move comes after Schroeder last week dismissed a charge for violating an emergency curfew in place the night of the shootings.
Prosecutors have charged Rittenhouse with first-degree reckless homicide for killing Joseph Rosenbaum, 36; first-degree intentional homicide for killing Anthony Huber, 26; and first-degree attempted intentional homicide for injuring Gaige Grosskreutz, 28. He is also charged with two counts of recklessly endangering safety with a dangerous weapon for firing two shots at an unknown man who kicked him while he was on the ground and for pointing his gun in the direction of Richie McGinniss, a videographer for the Daily Caller in the line of fire when Rosenbaum was shot.
Lesser included offenses like second-degree homicide were included in the jury instructions at the request of prosecutors. Rittenhouse's attorneys have argued self-defense on all the charges, saying their client shot while being chased and attacked by a crowd of protesters after fatally shooting Rosenbaum, who they say chased and threatened to kill the defendant.
On the morning of Aug. 25, 2020, Rittenhouse, then 17, came from spending the night at his friend Dominick Black’s house in Kenosha to clean up graffiti from protests that raged for several days in the southeastern Wisconsin city after Jacob Blake, a 30-year-old Black man, was shot seven times by a white Kenosha police officer responding to a domestic disturbance.
Rittenhouse – who lived at the time with his mom and two sisters in nearby Antioch, Illinois, but worked at a recreation facility near Kenosha as a lifeguard – returned to the unrest with Black later that evening. His plan was to protect property and administer first aid to those in need, and he ended up defending three used car lot properties with several other individuals, some who testified they were gratefully given permission by the owners’ sons after one of the lots was damaged by arson the previous night.
The teen was armed with an AR-15 rifle which Black, then over 18, had to buy for him in Wisconsin because Rittenhouse could not do so legally. They kept the gun at Black’s house in Wisconsin because Rittenhouse could not legally take it back to Illinois with him. Other individuals guarding the used car lot properties on Aug. 25 wore body armor and were similarly armed with rifles and pistols.