KENOSHA — Kyle Rittenhouse could spend the rest of his life behind bars if he is convicted of the first-degree intentional homicide charges he faces in the killings of Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum.
However, several attorneys and gun-rights advocates who have spoken out about the case say there’s a good chance the teenager’s claims to self-defense will win the day in court.
Rittenhouse is a 17-year-old from Antioch, Ill. On Aug. 25, he traveled to Kenosha, a city to which he was not a stranger.
Rittenhouse’s defense team said that a local business owner connected with Rittenhouse and others that morning while they were cleaning graffiti, asking for help defending his property in case protests turned into riots again that night.
Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum in the parking lot of a car dealership/mechanic’s shop. The owner of the shop was not reachable for comment.
When you start manufacturing facts to support false accusations, you get into trouble under the law of defamation. Kyle did not carry a gun across state lines. The gun belonged to his friend, a Wisconsin resident. The gun never left the State of Wisconsin.— Lin Wood (@LLinWood) August 28, 2020
Truth always prevails. https://t.co/iDbsykaVvY
One of the attorneys supporting Rittenhouse, L. Lin Wood of Atlanta, said in a tweet last month that the weapon the teenager was carrying that night was not brought across state lines, but rather was provided by a friend of Rittenhouse’s who is a Wisconsin resident.
Social media posts show that Rittenhouse was familiar with firearms, as he had posed in photos with guns since he was a boy.
Video of the two shootings appear to show that Rittenhouse was being pursued in both instances.
It’s unclear exactly what led up to the first killing — of Rosenbaum, a 36-year-old from Kenosha — although video shows Rittenhouse running away from Rosenbaum in a parking lot. Rosenbaum throws something at Rittenhouse: a criminal complaint from the Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office states that the item was a plastic bag. Those defending Rittenhouse say that Rosenbaum then started trying to take Rittenhouse’s gun when Rosenbaum was shot in the head.
Moments later, video shows Rittenhouse calls someone on the phone, saying “I just killed someone” as he starts running away.
At this point, some of the demonstrators start chasing Rittenhouse, calling out “He just shot somebody!”
As Rittenhouse is pursued northbound on Sheridan Road toward law enforcement, he falls to the ground. The two other people who Rittenhouse shot — Huber, a 26-year-old from Silver Lake who died after being shot in the chest; and Gaige Grosskreutz, who was severely wounded with a shot to the arm but survived — were recorded running after Rittenhouse, with Huber seen trying to hit Rittenhouse with a skateboard, when they were shot.
Rittenhouse then runs toward police vehicles with his arms raised as onlookers yell “he just shot somebody,” but the teenager was not apprehended at that time. The next day, he was taken into custody in Illinois.
The case for self-defense
“In the common law, deadly force is justified if they feel they are at risk of death or serious bodily injury,” said Alan Rice, a spokesperson and firearms instructor with Gun Owners of America, a nonprofit Second Amendment-rights lobbying organization that says it has more than 2 million members.
Rittenhouse’s primary defense attorney, John Pierce, said in a Sept. 1 Twitter video, “If this is not self-defense for Kyle Rittenhouse under these circumstances, then no one can protect themselves, no one can protect their family and no one can protect their country … this is a watershed moment in American history.”
KYLE RITTENHOUSE SPEAKS!!!!!! THIS MUST BE THE TWEET HEARD ‘ROUND THE WORLD!!!!!! RETWEET AND DONATE TO THE #FIGHTBACK FOUNDATION RIGHT NOW!!!!! #PaulRevere @LLinWood @realDonaldTrump @TuckerCarlson @michellemalkin @PressSec pic.twitter.com/fOCzeLGkcm— John Pierce (@CaliKidJMP) September 1, 2020
However, numerous widely circulated social media posts claim that since Rittenhouse was in the process of committing a crime — as he has been charged with possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 — then self-defense cannot be claimed. However, the Wisconsin state sub-statute in question (Statute 939.48 1m.b.1) is not that clear.
Under Statute 939.48, “if an actor (i.e. someone claiming self-defense, such as Rittenhouse) intentionally used force that was intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm, the court may not consider whether the actor had an opportunity to flee or retreat before he or she used force and shall presume that the actor reasonably believed that the force was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself if the actor makes such a claim.
And then, substatute 939.48 1m.b.1 states that if “the actor was engaged in a criminal activity” then the presumption “that the actor reasonably believed that the force was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself … (and if) the person against whom the force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering the actor’s dwelling, motor vehicle, or place of business” no longer applies. This clause is tied into what is often known as a “Castle Doctrine,” which is a type of law that allows people to defend themselves and their property while at home.
Although this statute, at first reading, may make it appear that Rittenhouse could not claim self-defense if he was engaged in criminal activity such as carrying a firearm underage, Kenosha-based defense attorney Michael Cicchini said that this is not the case. Since Rittenhouse was not defending “his own dwelling, motor vehicle, or place of business” — under rules colloquially known as “The Castle Doctrine” — then this criminal activity exemption no longer applies.
Statute 939.48 1m.b.1 is also rarely used. Cicchini said he has never seen the statute cited in his 20-plus years of practice.
Pierce has indicated he plans to argue that Rittenhouse was legally carrying the firearm, which could nullify this whole argument.
“That charge is incorrect,” Pierce told Fox News host Tucker Carlson during an interview televised Aug. 31. “As a 17-year-old he is legally entitled to have that firearm in his possession. Moreover, we are going to be arguing that the Second Amendment and Title 10 Section 246 of the United States Code (which allows militias to consist of “able-bodied males at least 17 years of age”) renders that charge, and any ordinance that that charge would be based on, to be blatantly unconstitutional.”
The group that Rittenhouse aligned himself with on Aug. 25 was calling itself a “local militia.”
What sparked the shootings?
Whatever started the confrontation between Rosenbaum and Rittenhouse — and thus led to the group chasing Rittenhouse down Sheridan Road preceding Huber’s death — may not matter either, legally speaking.
Colion Noir, a gun rights activist and attorney with a degree from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law whose full name is Collins Iyare Idehen Jr., broke down the shootings in a video viewed more than 1.7 million times on YouTube. In the video, Noir points out that whoever the aggressor is in a given scenario can change instantaneously in a legal sense.
“I think it’s pretty reasonable to assume that if someone is chasing you and throwing objects at you and then, when you’re cornered by them and they try to take your gun away from you, at best you’re risk of great bodily injury and at worst risk of death,” Noir pointed out, saying that Rittenhouse has a good case of self-defense in the killing of Rosenbaum.
As for the shootings of Huber and Grosskreutz, Noir said: “Again, legally this is self-defense. Yes, the people attacking Kyle think he just murdered someone. But they are attacking him, not defending themselves from him to prevent death or great bodily injury. So under the letter of the law, they are the aggressor at that moment. And because they have disparity of force, i.e., way more people than him … Kyle is legally justified to use deadly force to stop them.”
In his breakdown, Noir said: “Personally, I wish he would have just stayed home. Hell, I wish they all would have just stayed home.”
Rittenhouse’s extradition hearing is set for Sept. 25 in Illinois.
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