President Biden releases statement on Rittenhouse verdict, urges peace and unity

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Kyle Rittenhouse looks back as Susan Hughes, the great aunt of Anthony Huber, enters the courtroom during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. Anthony Huber was one of two men who Rittenhouse killed on Aug. 25, 2020. (Sean Krajacic/The Kenosha News via AP, Pool)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden released a statement Friday after Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty of first-degree intentional homicide and four other charges connected to deadly shootings in Wisconsin last year.

The jury came back with its verdict after close to 3 1/2 days of deliberation.

Rittenhouse, 18, could have gotten life in prison if found guilty of the most serious charge against him.

The verdict in the politically combustible case was met with anger and disappointment from those who saw Rittenhouse as a vigilante and a wannabe cop, and relief and vindication from those who regarded him as a patriot who wanted to stop lawlessness and exercised his Second Amendment right to carry a gun and to defend himself.

“While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken,” Biden said Friday afternoon. “I ran on a promise to bring Americans together, because I believe that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. I know that we’re not going to heal our country’s wounds overnight, but I remain steadfast in my commitment to do everything in my power to ensure that every American is treated equally, with fairness and dignity, under the law.”

The president went on to say “I urge everyone to express their views peacefully, consistent with the rule of law. Violence and destruction of property have no place in our democracy. The White House and Federal authorities have been in contact with Governor Evers’s office to prepare for any outcome in this case, and I have spoken with the governor this afternoon and offered support and any assistance needed to ensure public safety.”

The shootings in Kenosha, Wisconsin took place during a night of protests over police violence against Black people in the tumultuous summer of 2020. Rittenhouse is white, as were those he shot. The jury appeared to be overwhelmingly white.

Unrest erupted in Kenosha in August 2020 over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white Kenosha police officer. Protests following the Blake shooting at times turned violent and destructive, with rioters setting fires and ransacking businesses. 

Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time of the shootings, went to Kenosha with an AR-style semi-automatic weapon and a medic bag in what the former police and fire youth cadet said was an effort to protect property.

Just before midnight, Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum as Rosenbaum chased him across a parking lot. As Rittenhouse fled the scene, someone in the crowd tried to kick him in the face and Anthony Huber swung his skateboard at him, connecting with Rittenhouse’s head and neck. Rittenhouse fatally shot Huber. A moment later, Gaige Grosskreutz ran up to him holding a pistol. Rittenhouse shot him in the arm; Grosskreutz survived.

Prosecutors portrayed Rittenhouse as the instigator of the three shootings, while his lawyer says Rittenhouse acted in self-defense.

The case divided Americans over whether Rittenhouse was a patriot taking a stand against lawlessness or a vigilante.

The verdict came after a dramatic trial that saw the defense demand a mistrial over what they argued were out-of-bounds questions asked of Rittenhouse by the chief prosecutor. The two weeks of testimony ended as Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed a count of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18, a misdemeanor that had appeared to be among the likeliest of the charges to net a conviction. It carries up to nine months in jail.

The defense argued that Wisconsin law has an exception related to the length of a weapon’s barrel. After prosecutors conceded Rittenhouse’s rifle was not short-barreled, the judge threw out the charge.

In a gamble, Rittenhouse testified at his trial, sobbing on the stand so hard at one point that the judge called a break, saying: “I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself.” Prosecutors in turn tried to paint him as an inexperienced teenager who misrepresented his age and medical training to other armed civilians in his group on the night of the shootings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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