The judge presiding over the double homicide trial of Kyle Rittenhouse has dismissed one of the counts against him, a misdemeanor charge for possessing a dangerous weapon – an AR-15-style rifle – under age 18.
A trial for Mr Rittenhouse, who faces five felony charges related to killing two men and injuring another in the aftermath of police violence protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, is drawing to a close, with closing arguments by both legal teams set to begin on 15 November, with a verdict to follow.
On Monday, Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed a key charge before the jury heard closing remarks, after several attempts by defence attorneys to remove it, on a technicality.
Judge Schroeder argued that the charge, which is punishable by up to nine months in prison, was drawn from poorly and confusingly written Wisconsin open-carry law, and determined that the shorter barrel size of the rifle used by Mr Rittenhouse – despite being under age at the time – meant that he did not violate it.
Judge Schroeder believed the jury could only convict if prosecutors showed that the length of the barrel of the rifle used by Mr Rittenhouse fell within the legal dimensions for a short-barreled rifle – as under 16 inches or an overall length of less than 26 inches. The AR-15-style Smith & Wesson M & P 15 rifle used by Mr Rittenhouse is 35 inches long, with a barrel length of 16 inches.
Mr Rittenhouse was 17 years old when he traveled to Wisconsin in the middle of protests in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake and armed himself with a rifle that would be used to kill two men – Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber – and injure another, Gaige Grosskreutz, on 25 August 2020.
The dismissal marks the second time that the judge agreed to drop a charge, after dismissing another misdemeanor over violating curfew.
Mr Rittenhouse faces five felonies, including first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and two counts of recklessly endangering safety in the first degree. He has pleaded not guilty, as his attorneys argues that he only fired his rifle in self-defence.
Prosecutors – presenting their case in front of a nationally televised trial – have argued that it was Mr Rittenhouse who made the scene a dangerous one, after driving 20 miles from his home to insert himself in the centre of protests with a gun he was too young to buy himself, and then fired his weapon with the intentional use of deadly force.
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