Salem Radio Network News Monday, December 6, 2021

U.S.

Judge dismisses charge against U.S. teen Rittenhouse for possessing rifle

By Nathan Layne

KENOSHA, Wis. (Reuters) – A judge in the Wisconsin murder trial of Kyle Rittenhouse on Monday dismissed a misdemeanor charge against the teenager for illegally possessing the AR-15-style rifle he used to shoot three people, killing two, in what he says was self-defense.

In dismissing the charge, Judge Bruce Schroeder said the law on possession was unclear. Rittenhouse was 17 at the time of the shootings.

While a misdemeanor charge, its dismissal carries symbolic significance for a case that has captured the attention of the public in part because it involves a teenager roaming the streets with a semi-automatic rifle who was not immediately brought into custody by the Kenosha police.

The defense had argued that under a strict reading of Wisconsin law a person could carry a rifle at age 16 or 17 as long as it was not considered short-barreled, among other exceptions.

After prosecutors conceded that the barrel of Rittenhouse’s AR-15-style rifle was of a length that would not categorize it as short-barreled, the judge dismissed the weapons possession charge, the only misdemeanor count against the teenager.

It is the most closely watched trial involving a civilian’s right to self-defense since George Zimmerman was acquitted in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager, in 2013.

Like Zimmerman, Rittenhouse has emerged as a divisive figure, viewed as heroic by some conservatives who favor expansive gun rights and as a symbol of an out-of-control American gun culture by many on the left.

Rittenhouse, 18, is charged with killing Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and with wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, in the city of Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020. The shootings took place during protests – marred by arson, rioting and looting – that followed the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, who was left paralyzed from the waist down.

Prosecution and defense were due to deliver closing speeches later on Monday in Rittenhouse’s trial, offering to the jury vastly different conclusions about why the teenager opened fire during protests against the police shooting of Blake last year and whether it was justified.

Wearing a dark suit and blue shirt and tie, Rittenhouse yawned as the judge and the lawyer discussed jury instructions on Monday morning, with the jury still outside the courtroom.

About two dozen people waited to get a seat in the public section of the courtroom before the doors opened. The courtroom benches were nearly full for closing arguments and among those looking on was Rittenhouse’s mother, Wendy Rittenhouse.

CLOSING ARGUMENTS

The closing arguments are the lawyers’ last chance to influence a jury after nearly two weeks of testimony that included considerable evidence supporting Rittenhouse’s argument that he was attacked before he fired his rifle, killing two men and wounding a third.

The jury will then begin deliberations and attempt to form a consensus on guilt or innocence.

Rittenhouse, who has pleaded not guilty and testified last week that he acted in self-defense, faces life in prison if convicted.

Kenosha County assistant district attorneys Thomas Binger and James Kraus have sought to portray him as a reckless vigilante who came to Kenosha looking for an opportunity to use his weapon, and have argued that he was unjustified in deploying deadly force even when protesters pursued and attacked him.

On Friday, the judge said he would instruct the jury that they could weigh the prosecution’s argument that Rittenhouse was the aggressor, giving prosecutors latitude in closing remarks to highlight grainy drone video they say shows the teen raised his gun in a way that provoked Rosenbaum, who was unarmed.

If the jury finds that argument credible, it would raise the bar for self-defense under Wisconsin law, making it easier to convict.

Schroeder also decided to allow the jury to consider lesser charges, as is common in a homicide trial. But for the most serious counts Schroeder allowed only charges that require proof that Rittenhouse acted with “utter disregard for human life,” a high bar sought by the defense.

Prosecutors were worried that the jury could have been swayed by Rittenhouse’s own testimony – in which the teen, at times losing his composure and crying, said he did not want to kill anyone that night.

“I believe a reasonable jury and a reasonable juror could, based on the defendant’s own testimony, not find utter disregard for human life,” Kraus told the judge.

The defense, led by attorneys Mark Richards and Corey Chirafisi, is expected to highlight testimony from multiple witnesses that Rosenbaum was behaving erratically that night, had made death threats to Rittenhouse and others, and lunged at the teen and reached for his gun before he fired.

The Rosenbaum shooting is seen as the most critical because it was the first, setting the stage for the others.

Richards and Chirafisi can also point to video showing Huber striking Rittenhouse with a skateboard and to testimony from Grosskreutz, who acknowledged that Rittenhouse did not fire until Grosskreutz pointed his handgun in the teen’s direction.

Schroeder said the prosecution and defense would each have 2-1/2 hours to deliver their closing remarks to the jury.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Howard Goller)

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