By Jeremy Monger
A jury acquitted 35-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges, including the charge of aggravated murder, after two days of deliberations. He was accused of shooting and killing a man who tried to break into his Minneapolis home.
Here’s what we know about how the case played out, and what it points to about the burden for the prosecution in self-defense cases.
The most prominent prosecution witness was Rittenhouse himself. Jurors heard multiple videos of Rittenhouse’s arrest, of him talking to his friends at the police station and of him talking to investigators about the June 14, 2016 incident. He explained himself in detail about how he and his roommate (who was also accused of murdering Brandon Rutabinga) were ambushed, and why he had come to his suburban Minneapolis home that morning.
The defense was led by Bjorn Reker, a former real estate attorney who’s become something of a national figure after he was accused of raping two models, one of whom was only 14 years old. With his crisp, boyish manner and controlled demeanor, he rose to fame after he and Rittenhouse were indicted for the second-degree murder.
His tactics ranged from insisting the state offered no physical evidence or witness testimony backing up the charges, to saying his fiancee was the only witness who could differentiate between a knife and his toothbrush, to comparing the weapons of the two murder suspects.
“The fact that Kyle is really drunk does not mean that he’s not an adult,” he said.
The defense’s case was that self-defense is a legal action that is not only privileged, but one that’s the norm in Minnesota. Therefore, the prosecution was presenting too much of a rush to judgment because of the bizarre circumstances surrounding the case.
The prosecution’s case: Why is a weapon the only weapon prosecutors presented?
Minnesota law states that people have a right to use force to prevent someone from “combating their crime.” Specifically, there’s no obligation to retreat or use a license to use deadly force, as long as it is “reasonable.”
On Tuesday, prosecution witness and Minneapolis police detective Stephen Dowd testified about how prosecutors presented the case. He said prosecutors presented the shotgun as the only evidence against the couple.
If the prosecution brought no evidence against Rittenhouse, “We’re only using self-defense as the defense, not necessarily self-defense as a right,” Dowd said.
But the prosecution didn’t bring a shot from the weapon. Instead, they provided the jury with a point-and-shoot shell casing — one of the bullets believed to have been fired from the gun.
After the murder charge, Dowd said he thought they were going to drop the second-degree murder charge, because of Rittenhouse’s lack of physical injuries and his demeanor during questioning by prosecutors. But prosecutors decided to upgrade the charge because their evidence showed the victim to be alive at the time of the shot.
“It’s an impossible case,” Dowd said.
His reasoning? The homicide was “an active crime scene,” and the evidence did not show that, in his view, anything indicated that the victim or Rittenhouse tried to surrender or flee.
The next day, Dowd testified that “we’ve left a lot of unanswered questions about the subject, with no clear intent, no intent to flee.”
But Rittenhouse’s attorneys did present another point of evidence to challenge that — this was the first time they had appeared to intentionally fire the shot that killed Rutabinga.
After the defendant waived his Miranda rights, his lawyer, Bjorn Reker, said that Rittenhouse had decided to clear out the kitchen, gun near a liquor cabinet and then fire a warning shot toward the ceiling.
He told jurors that he fired twice when Rutabinga “decided to come at him.”
In response, a prosecutor, James Appel, said Reker didn’t mention any violence, such as “running at the defendant,” “stabbing him” or “pulling a knife.”
“We had ample opportunity to present these things,” Appel said.
So should self-defense laws be revisited?
Appel asked the jury, “What’s all this about whether the self-defense defense law is self-defense? A dead man with a knife?”
The jury ended up unanimously finding the state not guilty of all charges.