Teenage murder defendant Kyle Rittenhouse testified in his Wisconsin trial on Wednesday that he fatally shot two men and wounded a third with an AR-15-style rifle during racial justice protests to protect himself after being attacked, at one point breaking down sobbing on the witness stand.
The defence made a motion for a mistrial after Kenosha County judge Bruce Schroeder repeatedly scolded the prosecution for trying to introduce evidence he previously had deemed inadmissible. Mr Schroeder told Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger: “When you say you were acting in good faith, I don’t believe you.”
The judge took the mistrial motion under advisement.
In dramatic and risky testimony in his own defence, Mr Rittenhouse (18) tried to portray himself as wanting to help others by providing medical aid and extinguishing fires during the protests last year in the city of Kenosha and used his gun only after being attacked and ambushed. Prosecutors sought to paint Mr Rittenhouse as a vigilante who carried an assault-style weapon into a volatile melee and wanted to use it, asking him about his ammunition and penchant for violent video games.
“I did what I had to do to stop the person who was attacking me,” Mr Rittenhouse said under questioning by Binger.
“By killing them?” Mr Binger asked.
“Two of them passed away but I stopped the threat from attacking me,” Rittenhouse replied.
“By using deadly force?” Mr Binger asked.
“I used deadly force,” Mr Rittenhouse said. “... I didn’t know if it was going to kill them. But I used deadly force to stop the threat that was attacking me.”
Mr Rittenhouse is charged in the killing of Joseph Rosenbaum (36) and Anthony Huber (26) and the wounding of Gaige Grosskreutz (27) during protests on August 25th, 2020. Mr Rittenhouse, who 17 at the time of the killings, has pleaded not guilty.
By the night of the shootings, Kenosha had experienced two nights of tumultuous protests triggered by the police shooting of a local Black man, Jacob Blake. Several businesses were burned down and there was looting. Police used rubber bullets and tear gas to control crowds, which included men wearing military-style gear and carrying rifles who confronted the sometimes-violent demonstrators.
Dressed in a navy blue suit and dark blue tie, Mr Rittenhouse initially was composed on the witness stand until his attorney asked him to detail his encounter with Rosenbaum, who he shot four times. Video evidence showed Rosenbaum pursuing and throwing a plastic bag at Rittenhouse before the fatal encounter.
“I didn’t notice Mr Rosenbaum until he came out from behind the car and ambushed me,” Mr Rittenhouse testified, before he started to breathe heavily and lose his composure, shedding tears and sobbing, prompting the judge to call for a break.
Some jurors watched with a look of sympathy as he cried. Mr Rittenhouse’s mother sobbed in the courtroom watching her son.
Moments earlier, Mr Rittenhouse said Rosenbaum had threatened twice to kill him, telling a group he was with “I’m going to cut your f**king hearts out.” The slain man’s fiance has testified Rosenbaum was being treated for bipolar disorder.
Mr Rittenhouse faces a misdemeanour charge of underage possession of his weapon along with five felony counts.
‘Don’t get brazen’
Mr Binger repeatedly enraged the judge: first when he asked Mr Rittenhouse about his decision to remain silent until now, as is his right, and then when he asked about an incident caught on video two weeks prior to the shootings in which Mr Rittenhouse talked about shooting men he believed were shoplifting at a pharmacy.
Schroeder had already ruled video inadmissible.
“Don’t get brazen with me,” Mr Schroeder yelled at the prosecutor with the jury out of the room.
Mr Rittenhouse has emerged as a divisive figure, with politics coursing through the case. He is a hero to some conservatives who believe in unfettered gun rights and see the shootings as justified during the Kenosha chaos. Many on the left see Rittenhouse as a symbol of an American gun culture run amok.
The prosecution pressed Mr Rittenhouse about why he took it upon himself to carry a gun and offer assistance normally provided by local authorities in a hazardous situation.
“I brought the gun for my protection,” Mr Rittenhouse testified.
Mr Rittenhouse said he was asked to help guard a used car dealership along with other armed men, including one who was a boyfriend of his sister at the time.
Before the Rosenbaum shooting, Mr Rittenhouse said he was walking down the street and heard “somebody scream ‘burn in hell’ and I replied with ‘friendly, friendly, friendly’ to let them know, ‘Hey, I’m just here to help ... I don’t want any problems. I just want to put out the fires if there are any’.”
The Kenosha unrest occurred three months after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests over racism and police brutality. – Reuters