KENOSHA, Wis. — Testimony concluded in the Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial Thursday, bringing a case that has been a flashpoint in the national debate over gun rights and racial inequities close to its end.
Deliberations are expected to begin Monday, following closing arguments and a lengthy reading of jury instructions.
In August 2020, Rittenhouse — a 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois — crossed state lines and offered to patrol downtown Kenosha amid turmoil surrounding the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer. Carrying an AR-15-style rifle that police say a friend illegally purchased for him, Rittenhouse fatally shot two people and injured a third.
Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty, arguing he killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz in self-defense.
He faces six charges, including the intentional homicides of Rosenbaum and Huber. Prosecutors also indicated Thursday they could offer the jury so-called lesser included charges for Huber’s death, which means they would give jurors the option of finding Rittenhouse guilty of something less serious than Huber's murder. They also intend to ask the jury be given a provocation instruction, asking them to determine whether Rittenhouse provoked the confrontation and, if so, to negate the self-defense claim.
Prosecutors told Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder they had not yet finalized the charges they intend to present to the jury.
Jurors have heard from about 30 witnesses over the past eight days, including Rittenhouse, who took the stand in his own defense Wednesday. The teen testified he shot three people that night because he believed they were going to kill him.
“Two of them passed away, but I stopped the threat that was attacking me,” he testified.
Though defendants rarely testify at their own criminal trials, it’s common in self-defense cases where the accused’s mindset plays a key role in the case. As in other states, Wisconsin law holds that a person can shoot if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to avoid being killed or badly hurt.
Jacob Blake’s uncle said Thursday he was hopeful the jury would return a just verdict.
“We think it’s really tight right now. It’s almost right down the middle,” he said, standing on the courthouse steps. “We hope the jurors are able to focus their energies on the videos. I think that’s what is going to really impact this case. Everybody has an opinion on the case, but the videos show you what really occurred.”
The predominantly white jury consists of 10 women and eight men from Kenosha, a political swing county in the southeastern part of Wisconsin. Though only 12 members will deliberate on a verdict, the panel includes a special education teacher, a pharmacist, several gun owners and a woman who described her fears during the chaotic protests.
After evidence concluded, Schroeder told the jury that he would select the dozen people to deliberate by placing their numbers in an old brown lottery tumbler sitting on the window ledge in the ornate courtroom.
The trial’s waning defense witnesses included a use-of-force expert who broke down the various shooting videos for jurors to show them Rittenhouse only had seconds — and sometimes just a fraction of one — to make a decision about pulling the trigger. In an unusual move before the witness took the stand, the judge asked the courtroom, including the jury, to applaud the defense expert for his military service because it was Veterans Day.
Schroeder also asked other people in the courtroom to identify themselves as former or current members of the Armed Forces, but no one else did.
The day ended with the two sides squabbling, outside the jury’s presence, about the prosecution’s desire to present enlarged images that they said show Rittenhouse pointing a gun at a bystander moments before Rosenbaum began to chase him. The bystander, Joshua Ziminski, has been mentioned frequently during the trial but was not called as a witness by either side.
The attorneys all agree that Ziminski fired a gun into the air during the pursuit and Rittenhouse testified it made him fearful for his life because Ziminski and Rosenbaum were often seen together that night. The prosecution has suggested Rittenhouse contributed to the confrontation by pointing the gun at Ziminski.
Ziminski, who faces a felony arson charge related to a fire set during the unrest, told the Chicago Tribune he fired two rounds into the air, though only one shot was captured on highly publicized video. He alleges Rittenhouse threatening him “is the reason I pulled my gun out in the first place.”
The defense fought hard over two days to keep the jury from seeing the photos, taken from a drone video, at one point incorrectly suggesting to the judge that artificial intelligence and “logarithms” may have manipulated the images.
Schroeder allowed the photographs into evidence after the defense team’s own video expert testified the program used to enlarge the photo was the “gold standard” in the industry. The defense, however, was allowed to question the state crime lab employee who worked with the picture about the algorithms used in the program and to suggest the image was unreliable.
Though jurors will not be in the courtroom until Monday, attorneys from both sides will be there Friday to finalize jury instructions.