A Wisconsin judge on Monday dismissed a weapons charge against Kyle Rittenhouse, the teen who fatally shot two people and wounded a third during a protest in Kenosha last year.
Moments before closing arguments were set to start, Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed one count of illegal possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18.
The misdemeanor, punishable by up to nine months in jail, was considered one of the stronger counts against Rittenhouse. No one disputes he was 17 last year when he walked the streets of Kenosha armed with an AR-15-style weapon.
But the judge cited an exception within the law, dealing with age of the defendant, length of the barrel and hunting, for dismissing that count.
“The reason observers correctly believed the misdemeanor gun charge was a slam dunk is because it’s not disputed that Kyle Rittenhouse was under 17, and that he possessed a gun,” NBC News legal analyst Danny Cevallos said.
“But the criminal statute itself is more complicated than that. For this statute to apply, the defendant had to also violate a hunting regulation that only applied to people under 16. The defense discovered what was essentially an error in the legislation, that Kyle Rittenhouse cannot violate a law that only applies to someone under 16.”
Rittenhouse, now 18, still faces five other charges stemming from the Aug. 25, 2020, shootings.
He is accused of intentional homicide in the slaying of Anthony Huber, 26, and reckless homicide in the death of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36.
Rittenhouse has also been charged with attempted intentional homicide in the shooting of Gaige Grosskreutz, a paramedic from suburban Milwaukee who was volunteering his service at the protest.
The victims and Rittenhouse were in the streets of Kenosha as social justice demonstrations erupted following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Huber and Rosenbaum were not armed when Rittenhouse shot them, but Grosskreutz, 27, came toward the suspect with a pistol in hand when the teen from Antitoch, Illinois, opened fire.
Prosecutors said Rittenhouse, 17 at the time, had no legal right to have an AR-15-style weapon and wasn’t justified in the shootings.
The defense, meanwhile, has been arguing that Rittenhouse was defending himself on a chaotic, violent night.
In a highly unusual move, Rittenhouse took the witness stand in his own defense and insisted he reasonably feared for his life each time he pulled the trigger.
He described Rosenbaum as “the person who attacked me first and threatened to kill me twice.”
The defendant said Huber attacked him with a skateboard and was trying to pull his weapon away from him.
The Rittenhouse trial has drawn national attention. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has put 500 National Guard troops on standby in case local law enforcement need help with crowd control after a verdict.
He asked visitors to stay away from Kenosha.
“I urge folks who are otherwise not from the area to please respect the community by reconsidering any plans to travel there,” Evers said in a statement. “The Kenosha community has been strong, resilient, and has come together through incredibly difficult times these past two years, and that healing is still ongoing.”
This is a developing story. Please refresh here for updates.