This year there was no shortage of riveting trials that captivated the country, from the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, for the killing of two men, to the conviction of fired Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.
Fox News has selected a few of 2021’s most significant cases that touched on explosive issues, including the right to bear arms, police brutality and child abuse.
In the year’s most closely watched trial, Kyle Rittenhouse, 18, was found not guilty of all charges for shooting three men and killing two during a tumultuous night of riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse sobbed and collapsed in his seat Nov. 19 when the court clerk read the verdict, which was broadcast live on national television.
In dramatic testimony, Rittenhouse told jurors he strapped on an AR-15 and headed to downtown Kenosha Aug. 25, 2020, to protect businesses from rioters during the unruly demonstrations that erupted over the non-fatal shooting of Jacob Blake. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself,” Rittenhouse said.
In testimony that was corroborated by bystander video and government witnesses, Rittenhouse said he shot to death Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, after the man threatened to kill him and reached for his rifle. He killed Anthony Huber, 26, after the protester attacked him with a skateboard.
Demonstrator Gaige Grosskreutz, now 28, admitted on the stand that he pointed a loaded gun at Rittenhouse before the teen opened fire, blasting him in the arm.
Prosecutors portrayed Rittenhouse as a wannabe cop who’d gone to Kenosha looking for trouble. The polarizing case divided Americans over whether Rittenhouse was a courageous patriot exercising his Second Amendment right or a reckless vigilante.
Former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin was hit with 22 1/2 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd — a case that sparked national protests over police brutality and racial injustice.
In a disturbing cellphone video, Chauvin, 45, a White cop, can be seen pressing his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck, who is Black, for 9 1/2 minutes. “I can’t breathe,” Floyd, 46, says more than 20 times before losing consciousness and dying May 25, 2020.
Alarmed bystanders begged Chauvin to relent, but he was unmoved.
Defense lawyer Eric Nelson argued that his client had used appropriate force during Floyd’s arrest for passing a counterfeit $20 bill in downtown Minneapolis. “In this case, the totality of the circumstances that were known to a reasonable police officer in the precise moment the force was used demonstrates that this was an authorized use of force,” the lawyer told unswayed jurors.
Chauvin was convicted in April of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Three other officers involved in Floyd’s death are scheduled to go to trial in March.
In another racially charged Minnesota trial involving a White ex-police officer, Kim Potter was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright.
Potter, 49, testified that she had confused her handgun for her Taser when she shot Wright April 11 during a traffic stop.
Wright pulled away as Potter’s partner tried to arrest him on an outstanding warrant for a weapons charge. Body-cam footage shows that Potter repeatedly threatened to tase Wright before shooting him once in the chest.
“(Expletive)! I just shot him….I grabbed the wrong (expletive) gun,” she can be heard saying in the video shown to jurors.
She’s scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 18 and faces about seven years in prison. She was also found guilty of second-degree manslaughter but under Minnesota law will only face time on the top count.
Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan
Three White men were convicted of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man who was jogging in a suburban town outside Brunswick, Georgia.
Travis McMichael, 35, and his dad, Greg McMichael, 65, a retired cop, grabbed their guns and pursued Arbery for five minutes in their white pickup after spotting him running by their house on a Sunday afternoon Feb. 23, 2020.
Their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, who was unarmed, later joined the chase in his own truck. After the men trapped Arbery with their pickups, Travis McMichael and the young man struggled over his shotgun before McMichael blasted him in the chest.
Bryan captured part of the deadly encounter on his cellphone. Two months after the slaying, the shocking footage was leaked to the press, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation stepped in and arrested the men.
Travis McMichael testified that he was trying to make a legal citizen’s arrest after Arbery, 25, was seen repeatedly leaving a nearby under-construction home. He said he acted in self-defense after Arbery attacked him and grabbed his gun. The men are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 7.
Former reality TV star Josh Duggar, 33, was convicted earlier this month in an Arkansas federal courtroom of downloading and possessing child pornography. He faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
Duggar’s lawyer argued that someone else had downloaded the disturbing images on his client’s computer, but the jury didn’t buy it.
Duggar and his large family starred on “TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting” until the network canceled the show in 2015 when allegations surfaced he had molested four of his sisters and a babysitter.
In the wake of the scandal, Duggar apologized for a pornography addiction and for cheating on his wife, Anna, with whom he shares six kids.
R&B singer R. Kelly was convicted in September in Brooklyn federal court of sexually abusing women, girls and boys for decades. The “I Believe I Can Fly” crooner faces 10 years to life in prison when he’s sentenced May 4.
Prosecutors said Robert Sylvester Kelly, 54, was a known predator who used his fame and power to exploit and control his victims — physically abusing them and forcing them to perform sex acts.
One of his earliest victims was R&B singer Aaliyah, who later died in a plane crash. He illegally wed the 15-year-old pop star in a Chicago hotel room in 1994 using a forged ID to prevent her from testifying against him for statutory rape.
Kelly’s legal woes are far from over. He faces charges of engaging in prostitution with a minor in Minnesota and child pornography in Illinois.
A Manhattan federal jury is weighing the fate of British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who is accused of recruiting and grooming four teens to be sexually abused by the late financier Jeffrey Epstein between 1994 and 2004.
If convicted, she could land in prison for up to 70 years. Three of the women testified under pseudonyms while one used her real name.
A woman identified only as Carolyn said she was 14 when Epstein began paying her for sexual massages at his Palm Beach mansion. During one encounter in the early 2000s, she said Maxwell, 59, groped her and told her she had a “great body for Mr. Epstein and his friends.”
Maxwell’s lawyers have argued that prosecutors only targeted her after Epstein killed himself in a Manhattan jail cell at the age of 66 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
The attorneys say that Maxwell knew nothing of her ex-lover’s depraved interest in young girls and that she has become a scapegoat for his crimes.
After a high-profile federal trial, a California jury is mulling a verdict for failed Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes.
The Stanford drop-out and Steve Jobs wannabe is accused of duping investors into believing that her company’s diagnostic device could conduct hundreds of health tests with a few pin pricks of blood.
Prosecutors have argued that Holmes’ company, once valued at $9 billion, was based on an elaborate fraud, and the device was never close to being capable of performing the promised feats.
On the stand, Holmes denied wrongdoing and blamed her ex-boyfriend and former Theranos Chief Operator Officer Ramesh “Sunny” Bulwani for controlling her and subjecting her to alleged emotional and physical abuse.
If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison. Bulwani, 56, has denied her claims and faces his own trial next year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report