What happened to Kyle Rittenhouse that night in Kenosha?
Kyle Rittenhouse is charged with intentional murder and reckless homicide. His defense team has put together a video that walks you through every move Kyle Rittenhouse made on the night of August 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. This post gives you a quick rundown of what Kyle's defense team has to show to get a "not guilty" verdict. Once you know what the law is, you can watch the embedded video and reach your conclusions.
On August 25, 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse went to downtown Kenosha armed with a first aid kit and a rifle. His stated intention was to help others and, if there was trouble, to protect himself.
By the end of that night, two men were dead, another was wounded, and Kyle was arrested. Just two days later, long before all the facts had been assembled, the prosecutors announced that they were charging Kyle with multiple felonies, including first-degree intentional homicide, reckless homicide, and reckless endangerment.
Each of those charges relies upon showing that Kyle had a different state of mind when he fired his gun:
(1) The mental element is intentional when the actor has the purpose to cause death or is aware that death is practically certain to be caused by the conduct [Wis. Stat. § 939.23];
(2) The mental element is aggravated recklessness when the actor is aware that the conduct creates an unreasonable and substantial risk of death or great bodily harm to another under circumstances which show utter disregard for human life [Wis. Stat. §§ 939.24, 940.02];
(3) The mental element is simple recklessness when the actor is aware that the conduct creates an unreasonable and substantial risk of death or great bodily harm to another [Wis. Stat. § 939.24];
(4) The mental element is negligence when the actor should realize that the conduct creates a substantial and unreasonable risk of death or great bodily harm to another [Wis. Stat. § 939.25].
Walter Dickey, David Schultz James L. Fullin, Jr., The Importance of Clarity in the Law of Homicide: The Wisconsin Revision, 1989 Wis. L. Rev. 1323, 1330 [hereinafter The Importance of Clarity]. (Quoting from State v. Head, 255 Wis. 2d 194 (Wis. 2002).)
The only thing that can protect Kyle from being found guilty on all of those charges is something called a "perfect self-defense." If the defendant can prove the elements of "perfect self-defense," the defendant is wholly exonerated from criminal liability. An "imperfect self-defense" will only mitigate culpability (leading to the defendant being found guilty of a lesser crime). State v. Head, 255 Wis.2d 194.
So what facts must Kyle's attorneys establish to prove that Kyle acted in "perfect self-defense"?
To raise the issue of perfect self-defense, a defendant must meet a reasonable objective threshold. The trial evidence must show: (1) a reasonable belief in the existence of an unlawful interference; and (2) a reasonable belief that the amount of force the person intentionally used was necessary to prevent or terminate the interference. Wis. Stat. § 939.48(1). (State v. Head, above, 255 Wis. 2d 194.)
If you're wondering, an "unlawful interference" means that the other person involved (the one who was killed) was imminently planning to do something that would unlawfully interfere with the defendant's person (i.e., was going to kill the defendant).
The charging documents are peculiar, to say the least, because they carefully document how Kyle acted in self-defense. Even The New York Times' article tracking Kyle's conduct based upon the videos then available seemed to concede that Kyle acted in self-defense.
Now, you can do something even better than reading articles or charging documents to give you a sense of that terrible night. #FightBack, the Kyle Rittenhouse defense organization, has taken all of the available video from that night — and there is a lot of video — and pieced together the entire evening. You can see what Kyle did and what others said and did.
It's your turn to be the jury. Watch the video and see if you think that, every time Kyle fired his gun at the two men he killed, he was reasonable in believing that they intended to kill him and that his use of a gun at close range was a reasonable way to defend against that imminent threat:
Image: Kyle Rittenhouse. YouTube screen grab.