A US teenager who shot dead two men during racial justice protests has been cleared of homicide and all other charges after claiming self-defence.
Kyle Rittenhouse, 18, killed the men and wounded a third on the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, on 25 August 2020.
During the high profile and politically divisive trial, his defence said he had feared for his life. Prosecutors argued he was looking for trouble that night.
National Guard troops have been sent to the city amid fears of unrest.
Mr Rittenhouse fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and then wounded 27-year-old Gaige Grosskreutz. Mr Rittenhouse and the men he shot are all white.
He faced five charges, including intentional homicide, which carries a life sentence.
His fate was decided by a 12-person jury composed of seven women and five men, who had spent more than three days deliberating.
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The teenager stood with his lawyer to hear the verdict, then he began to shake with sobs and nearly collapsed as he heard the words “not guilty” read out five times.
Two nights before he turned up in Kenosha last year, riots had erupted on its streets after police shot Jacob Blake, a black man, leaving him paralysed.
Mr Rittenhouse, then aged 17, had travelled to the city from his home in Illinois. Armed with a semi-automatic rifle, he said he sought to help protect property from unrest.
Kyle Rittenhouse hugs one of his attorneys Corey Chirafisi as he reacts to the verdict during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, U.S., November 19, 2021.Image source, Reuters
Kyle Rittenhouse hugged his lawyer as the verdict was read
The case has become a flashpoint in the highly polarised debate over guns rights in the US.
Mr Rittenhouse is championed as a hero by those who say he tried to keep the peace in sometimes violent protests.
Others were horrified by what they saw as a heavily armed teenage vigilante in a volatile setting.
BBC correspondent Nomia Iqbal, who was at the courthouse on Friday, said several cars drove past tooting their horns and shouting “Free Kyle” and “We love the second amendment” after the verdict was announced.
On the court steps Jacob Blake’s uncle was in tears and said he was shocked at the verdict. He said that if Mr Rittenhouse had been a black teenager “police would have shot him dead”.
Mr Huber’s parents said there was “no accountability” for their son’s killer.
“It sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence, and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street,” they said in a statement.
But Mr Rittenhouse’s defence attorney Mark Richards said his client “wished none of this would have ever happened” and just wanted to get on with his life.
David Hancock, a spokesman for the Rittenhouse family, told CBS the family had expected the acquittal, adding that they were now “in an undisclosed location”.