‘Vigilantes will be emboldened,’ Seattle attorney says after Rittenhouse verdict

Not guilty, on all charges — that’s the verdict from a Wisconsin jury for Kyle Rittenhouse.

The 18-year-old shot and killed two people last summer during the protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It’s a trial that’s divided the country and reaction is pouring in from all sides.

A Seattle constitutional law attorney, Jeffery Needle, says the Rittenhouse verdict will have an “enormously significant” impact, including here in Washington.

“Vigilantes will be emboldened by this, much to my regret. I think we will see a tremendous surge of vigilantism. People will feel emboldened they can use force, they’ll feel justified they can walk around carrying weapons,” Needle said.

However, Needle says he believes the jury’s verdict of not guilty on all five charges, including two first-degree homicide charges, will stick. He points to the prosecution’s huge burden of proof.

Prosecutors had to show beyond a reasonable doubt Rittenhouse was not acting in self-defense when he shot and killed two people, and wounded another.

“There is nothing that jumps out at me that suggests to me that there was an unfair trial in his case,” Needle said. “They came back with a verdict and we’re stuck with it, like it or not,” he said.

“It may have been justice for Mr. Rittenhouse — I’m not quarreling with that. But I think in so far as broader social consequences it will be bad,” he said.

Rittenhouse traveled to Wisconsin from Illinois, armed with a semi-automatic rifle. He testified that he went to the protests in Kenosha with the intention of helping protect property and give medical aid. But Rittenhouse said he ended up in a situation where he feared for his life.

He gave emotional testimony last Wednesday and became so choked up on the stand the judge called for a recess.

“They found him to be credible and sympathetic,” Needle said. “And more than any other reason, I suspect that’s why he won,” he said.

The Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility is concerned this ruling will make it more difficult for people to exercise their freedom of speech without fear.

“I think what happened today really undermines our first amendment rights as citizens in this country,” said Renee Hopkins, CEO for the Alliance for Gun Responsibility.

“It’s really important to note that no one, especially no minor, should be allowed to cross state lines with a semi-automatic assault rifle, shoot three people, then be portrayed as a victim — or even worse, a hero. And that’s what happened today,” Hopkins said.

The Second Amendment Foundation based in Bellevue is applauding the verdict and said in an email, “The verdict by the Kenosha jury is an affirmation that people, regardless of their age, have a right to defend themselves against violent attack, by individuals or a mob.”

Rittenhouse’s attorney said Rittenhouse is now at home.