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The judge at Kyle Rittenhouse’s murder trial has dismissed a count of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18.
The charge is only a misdemeanor, but it had appeared to be among the likeliest to net a conviction for prosecutors. There’s no dispute that Rittenhouse was 17 when he carried an AR-style semi-automatic rifle on the streets of Kenosha in August 2020 and used it to kill two men and wound a third.
But the defense argued that Wisconsin’s statute had an exception that could be read to clear Rittenhouse. That exception involves whether or not a rifle or shotgun is short-barreled.
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After prosecutors conceded in court Monday that Rittenhouse’s rifle was not short-barreled, Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed the charge.
The ruling came just before attorneys were set to deliver closing arguments Monday.
Rittenhouse, 18, of Antioch, Illinois, faces charges ranging from intentional homicide — punishable by life in prison — to an underage weapons charge that could mean a few months in jail if convicted.
Public interest in closing arguments was evident Monday morning, when more people than usual stood in a line outside Courtroom 209 to get a seat. The first one in line was a man in a red hat and red coat bedecked with silver glitter. Outside, someone erected a cutout of Rittenhouse, and a man stood on a corner waving an upside-down American flag.
Rittenhouse, 17 at the time, traveled the few miles from his home to Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020, as the city was in the throes of damaging protests that erupted after a white police officer' shot and wounded Jacob Blake, a Black man.
Bystander video captured the critical minutes when Rittenhouse, with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle, shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 28.
Rittenhouse is white, as are the three men he shot. The case raised questions about racial justice, vigilantism, the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and white privilege that polarized people far beyond Kenosha.
Rittenhouse has argued self-defense in the shootings, leaving prosecutors with the burden of proving that his fear for his safety and his use of deadly force were unreasonable. Some legal experts watching the trial said the prosecution struggled to do so.
Perhaps in recognition of that, prosecutors asked Judge Bruce Schroeder to let the jury consider several lesser charges if they acquit him on the original counts. Schroeder indicated on Friday that he would allow some of what prosecutors sought when he gave the jury instructions on Monday.