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Illinois teen who fatally shot 2 people at Kenosha protest pleads not guilty

Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wis.
Kyle Rittenhouse, shown on Oct. 30, killed two people and wounded one other during a protest.
(Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department)

An Illinois teenager who fatally shot two people and wounded a third amid sometimes violent summer protests on the streets of Kenosha, Wis., pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges including intentional homicide.

Kyle Rittenhouse, 18, entered his plea in a brief hearing conducted by teleconference that came just as Kenosha was bracing for a charging decision in the event that brought Rittenhouse to the city in August — the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

Prosecutors say Rittenhouse, who is white, left his home in Antioch, Ill., and traveled to Kenosha after learning of a call to protect businesses in the aftermath of the shooting of Blake, a Black man. Blake was shot by police seven times in the back on Aug. 23 and left paralyzed.

Rittenhouse opened fire with an assault-style rifle during protests two nights later, killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz. Rittenhouse has argued he fired in self-defense. Conservatives have rallied around Rittenhouse, describing him as a patriot who took up arms to protect people and property, and raised enough money to make his $2-million cash bail.

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Others see him as a domestic terrorist whose presence with a rifle incited protesters.

The Blake shooting happened three months after George Floyd died while being restrained by police officers in Minneapolis, which also was captured on bystander video and sparked outrage and protests that spread across the United States and beyond. The galvanized Black Lives Matter movement put a spotlight on inequitable policing and became a fault line in politics, with President Trump criticizing protesters and aggressively pressing a law-and-order message that he sought to capitalize on in Wisconsin and other swing states.

In Kenosha, as the protests that followed damaged businesses in the city of 100,000 near the Wisconsin-Illinois border — authorities ultimately estimated some $50 million in damage — some people answered a call on social media to travel to Kenosha.

Conservatives have rallied to Rittenhouse’s legal defense, arguing that he was a patriot who took up arms to protect people and property. Rittenhouse was 17 at the time of the shootings, and charges include illegal possession of a dangerous weapon by someone under age 18.

In his afternoon ruling rejecting Kyle Rittenhouse’s bid to remain in Illinois, Judge Paul Novak noted that defense attorneys had characterized the Wisconsin charges as politically motivated.

A pretrial conference for Rittenhouse was set for March 10, with a March 29 trial date, though his attorney Mark Richards indicated he would seek to delay that to allow more time to prepare.

Kenosha County Dist. Atty. Michael Graveley hasn’t publicly announced the timing of a decision on whether to charge Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey in Blake’s shooting. But the city began moving in recent days to prepare for the event, with some businesses boarding their windows and the placement of concrete barricades and oversized metal fencing around the Kenosha County Courthouse. Fearing a repeat of the August protests, the Kenosha Common Council on Monday night unanimously approved an emergency resolution that was to go into effect with the announcement and allow the mayor to set curfews.

Meanwhile, Gov. Tony Evers has activated 500 National Guard troops to help Kenosha authorities when the decision is announced.

“Our members of the National Guard will be on hand to support local first responders, ensure Kenoshans are able to assemble safely, and to protect critical infrastructure as necessary,” Evers said in a statement.

Blake’s father led a march through the city Monday evening, calling on people to “make noise” and be “heard around the world.”

Sheskey “tried to kill my son and could have killed my grandchildren,” Jacob Blake Sr. said during a news conference before the march. “He shot him seven times in his back unjustifiably.”

The family said it had taken too long for a charging decision and that the precautions suggested Sheskey would not be charged.

“What is the National Guard for?” Blake Sr. said. “They going to deliver mail? Deliver ice cream? What do you think they’re here for?”

Tanya McLean, executive director of the community organization Leaders of Kenosha and a friend of the Blake family, said as Monday evening’s march was kicking off that violence wasn’t acceptable.

“No matter what the decision is, we are seeking nonviolence,” she said. “We want everybody to come out, make as much noise as you want, but we don’t want any destruction of property or businesses. We are for nonviolence. Anything else is not acceptable for this community.”


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