The judge presiding over Kyle Rittenhouse’s homicide trial on Monday dismissed one of the charges against the defendant: possession of a dangerous weapon by a person younger than 18.
Rittenhouse was 17 years old when he opened fire using an AR-15-style rifle killing two people and wounding a third amid spiraling protests over the Kenosha, Wisconsin, police shooting of Jacob Blake. Judge Bruce Schroeder dropped the charge after the prosecution conceded that the rifle did not fit the definition of “short-barreled rifle” under Wisconsin law.
“That is evidence enough in itself: The jury can measure it,” Schroeder said, referring to the barrel length. Here’s what Wisconsin law has to say about barrel length on a short-barreled rifle [emphasis ours]:
941.28 Possession of short-barreled shotgun or short-barreled rifle.
(1) In this section:
(a) “Rifle” means a firearm designed or redesigned, made or remade, and intended to be fired from the shoulder or hip and designed or redesigned and made or remade to use the energy of a propellant in a metallic cartridge to fire through a rifled barrel a single projectile for each pull of the trigger.
(b) “Short-barreled rifle” means a rifle having one or more barrels having a length of less than 16 inches measured from closed breech or bolt face to muzzle or a rifle having an overall length of less than 26 inches.
The prosecution conceded that the barrel length of the weapon is not less than 16 inches and that the overall length is not less than 26 inches. The charge was, therefore, tossed.
There is no dispute that Rittenhouse shot and killed both Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 27. The question is whether Rittenhouse acted in self-defense under the circumstances, as the defense maintains. Rittenhouse says he went to Kenosha to help protect private property in the area and styled himself as a medic. Prosecutors say he lied about being an EMT. Rittenhouse testified that Rosenbaum ambushed him.
“I take a few steps, and that’s when I turn around, and as I’m turning around, Mr. Rosenbaum is — I would say — from me to where the judge is — coming at me with his arms out in front of him. I remember his hand on the barrel of my gun,” Rittenhouse said. He maintained that he could not keep running away because he had no more space.
A medical examiner for the prosecution testified that Rosenbaum may have fallen forward not because he lunged but because Rittenhouse shot him. But another man who said he was there that night to protect private property—and who reportedly said he was an adherent of the “Boogaloo Bois“—testified that Rosenbaum was hostile, belligerent, and threatening that night.
“He [Rosenbaum] goes, ‘You know, if I catch any of you guys alone tonight, I’m going to fucking kill you,'” Ryan Balch said.
In opening statements, the defense said that other members of the crowd who didn’t see what happened—which would have included Huber and Grosskreutz—attacked Rittenhouse “in the street like an animal.”
The prosecutor maintained, however, that what Rittenhouse did was illegal.
“In the entire sequence of events, this was all property damage,” Assistant Kenosha County District Attorney Thomas Binger said during opening statements. “And one of the thing we had all agreed on yesterday is that life is more important than property. Up until Tuesday night, despite all the things the community had experienced, no one had been killed.”
Following his ruling, Judge Schroeder instructed the jury on the law of self-defense. Rittenhouse continues to face five other counts of his indictment, including charges of first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree recklessly endangering safety and attempted first-degree intentional homicide. Closing arguments are underway.
Aaron Keller contributed to this report.
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