By Nathan Layne
(Reuters) - A judge ruled on Thursday there was probable cause that U.S. teenager Kyle Rittenhouse committed felonies in fatally shooting two protesters and wounding a third during protests in Wisconsin over the summer, clearing one of the final hurdles before trial.
The shootings occurred in August in Kenosha, Wisconsin amid civil unrest sparked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man. Rittenhouse's lawyers have said he was helping protect property and that he acted in self defense.
Rittenhouse, 17, was charged with first-degree homicide and five other criminal counts related to the shootings, in which Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber were killed and Gaige Grosskreutz was wounded. The charges also include two lesser charges for illegal possession of a weapon by a minor and for allegedly endangering the safety of journalist Richard McGinnis.
Loren Keating, a Kenosha County judicial court commissioner, on Thursday denied a motion by Rittenhouse's lawyer to dismiss the two lesser charges and said the evidence was sufficient for the case to go to trial.
Related: Lawyers for Kyle Rittenhouse want two charges thrown out
"I do find the state has demonstrated probable cause that in this case felonies were committed relating to the counts in the complaint," Keating said at a preliminary hearing, advancing the prosecution's case another step towards trial.
Rittenhouse was extradited in late October from his home state of Illinois to Kenosha to face the charges. Rittenhouse, who has become a cause celebre of sorts for the political right, posted $2 million bail after a public fundraising campaign.
Rittenhouse's legal team have said their client feared for his life when he fired his semi-automatic rifle on Aug. 25 in Kenosha. Cellphone videos from the night show chaotic scenes, including one where Rittenhouse is chased and falls down before his encounter with Huber and Grosskreutz, who had a handgun.
In questioning of a detective testifying for the state on Thursday, Richards appeared to offer a preview of the likely defense.
"In your investigation and looking at all the hours of videos did you ever see Kyle act inappropriate towards somebody who was not threatening him with a firearm," Richards asked, before Keating sustained an objection to the question.
"Mr. Richards, here's the key: you have an opportunity at trial," Keating said.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Bernadette Baum)