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Closing arguments are underway in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Closing arguments have concluded in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. The case is now in the hands of the jury. They will begin deliberations tomorrow. The 18-year-old is charged with shooting three men, killing two and wounding another during protests in Kenosha, Wis., last year. NPR's Cheryl Corley has been following this case and joins us now.

Hi, Cheryl.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: All right, so I want to ask you first about something that happened before closing arguments even began today. I understand the judge dismissed one of the charges against Rittenhouse. What was the charge? And what was the reasoning?

CORLEY: Yeah. Well, it was a misdemeanor and the charge that was seen as really the most likely for a conviction for Kyle Rittenhouse. It was specifically for possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under the age of 18. Now, Rittenhouse was only 17 when he shot those three men in Kenosha. He was carrying an assault-style weapon. But Rittenhouse's attorneys said there was an exception in Wisconsin law that allows 17-year-olds to openly carry firearms if they are not short-barreled rifles. So Judge Bruce Schroeder said the law was poorly written, but the size of the rifle that Rittenhouse carried meant that he didn't violate the law. And prosecutors disagreed with the judge's interpretation, but they did concede that that was not a short-barreled rifle. And that count was dismissed.

CHANG: Wow. OK, but Rittenhouse still faces very serious charges - five in total. Am I correct?

CORLEY: Well, five counts and also a little bit more. But let me backtrack just a little bit because all the men involved in this case are white. But the really chaotic night where the shootings occurred stemmed from protests over the wounding of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was paralyzed in a police shooting a few days earlier. And it was during that third day of the protests that Kyle Rittenhouse shot those people. He does face five counts of intentional attempted homicide, reckless homicide - charges that could bring him life in prison. But he also now faces less serious charges. Prosecutors asked and the judge agreed to let the jury consider those several lesser charges if they acquit him on the original counts.

CHANG: OK. Well, as always, the burden of proof here is on the prosecution. Can you just talk about what is the prosecution's central argument?

CORLEY: Well, they really tried to portray Kyle Rittenhouse as the aggressor, who was the reason why there was bloodshed. There was lots of video of the protests and the shooting. So the prosecutor, Thomas Binger, played video of those shootings. He used PowerPoint to go step by step over what had happened that night. He showed jurors the assault rifle that Rittenhouse used, and he talked about who should have been seen as a threat during the night. Binger talked about the encounter that Kyle Rittenhouse had with the first man he shot and killed, 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum. He said that the Rittenhouse attorneys mischaracterized Rosenbaum and also what happened. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THOMAS BINGER: They have to convince you that Joseph Rosenbaum was going to take that gun and use it on the defendant because they know you can't claim self-defense against an unarmed man like this.

CORLEY: And especially, he said, when it was Rittenhouse who brought the gun.

CHANG: Well, let's turn to the defense's case. The defense did make the decision to put Rittenhouse on the stand during the trial. And I'm curious. How is the defense making its case now as the whole trial's coming to a close?

CORLEY: Well, defense attorney Mark Richards - he really blasted the prosecution, saying this case was not a game, that his client's life was at stake. And he said that Joseph Rosenbaum was not being mischaracterized. He was indeed a threat to Kyle Rittenhouse and had said during that night that he would kill Kyle Rittenhouse. And here's what he said about Rosenbaum.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK RICHARDS: He was a bad man. He was there. He was causing trouble. He was a rioter. And my client had to deal with him that night alone.

CORLEY: And Richards said that there were numerous times that Kyle Rittenhouse did not shoot his weapon and didn't do so until he was attacked numerous times. And he acted under the law of self-defense.

CHANG: That is NPR's Cheryl Corley.

Thank you, Cheryl.

CORLEY: You're quite welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.