Rittenhouse, who shot and killed 2 men during Kenosha anti-racism protests, says he ‘stopped the threat’

  • Kyle
    Rittenhouse, who shot and killed two men and wounded a third during anti-racism
    protests in Kenosha, testified during his murder trial in Wisconsin.
  • Rittenhouse
    broke down sobbing and claimed he had acted to protect himself during heated
    exchanges in the protests.
  • Rittenhouse,
    17 at the time, faces a misdemeanour charge of underage possession of his
    weapon, along with five felony counts.

KENOSHA – US
teenager Kyle Rittenhouse testified in his murder trial on Wednesday that he
fatally shot two men and wounded a third with an AR-15-style rifle during
chaotic racial justice protests to protect himself after being attacked, at one
point breaking down sobbing on the witness stand.

In dramatic
and risky testimony in his own defence, Rittenhouse, 18, portrayed himself as
wanting to help others by providing medical aid and extinguishing fires during
the protests last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He said he used his gun only
after being attacked and ambushed.

Prosecutors
sought to paint 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
his playing violent video games.

“I did
what I had to do to stop the person who was attacking me,” Rittenhouse
said under questioning by Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas
Binger.

“By
killing them?” Binger asked.

“Two
of them passed away but I stopped the threat from attacking me,” replied
Rittenhouse, whose testimony ended on Wednesday in the trial, which the judge
said could be finished by Monday or Tuesday.

“By
using deadly force?” Binger asked.

“I
used deadly force,” 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.”

Rittenhouse
is charged in the killing of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and
the wounding of Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, during protests on 25 August 2020.
Rittenhouse, 17 at the time of the killings, has pleaded not guilty.

Divisive
figure

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.

By the
night of the shootings, Kenosha had experienced two nights of tumultuous
protests triggered by the police shooting of a black man, Jacob Blake, who was
left paralysed from the waist down.

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, 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. Rittenhouse
said Rosenbaum grabbed his gun.

Kyle Rittenhouse waits for his trial to begin for the day at the Kenosha County Courthouse on 10 November 2021 in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

AFP PHOTO: Sean Krajacic-Pool/Getty Images/AFP

“I
didn’t notice Mr Rosenbaum until he came out from behind the car and ambushed
me,” 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. Rittenhouse’s mother sobbed in the
courtroom watching her son.

Earlier in
the night, Rittenhouse said Rosenbaum had threatened twice to kill him, first
by saying that he would kill the teen if he caught him alone and then telling a
group he was with “I’m going to cut your fucking hearts out”. The
slain man’s fiancée testified that Rosenbaum had bipolar disorder.

Rittenhouse
faces a misdemeanour charge of underage possession of his weapon, along with
five felony counts.

‘Don’t
get brazen’

The defence
made a motion for a mistrial after Binger asked Rittenhouse about his decision
to remain silent until now, as is his right, and about a video recorded two
weeks before the shootings in which the teen talked about shooting men he
thought were shoplifting at a pharmacy.

Kenosha
County Judge Bruce Schroeder had already ruled the video inadmissible. He
erupted at Binger after the jury left the courtroom and said he would consider
the mistrial motion.

“When
you say you were acting in good faith, I don’t believe you,” the judge
said to Binger.

The
prosecution pressed Rittenhouse about why he took it upon himself to carry a
gun and offer assistance normally provided by local authorities in a hazardous
situation.

The teen,
who had taken some first aid courses, brought a medical kit and testified to
helping people with minor injuries. He said he was there to help guard a used
car dealership.

Rittenhouse testified:

I brought the gun for my protection.

“I didn’t
want to have to kill anybody that night.”

Rittenhouse
said when he shot Rosenbaum he had his earlier threats in his mind and was also
rattled by a gunshot fired nearby by another man, Joshua Ziminski. Rosenbaum
had also wrapped his red shirt around his head, obstructing his face.

Binger
repeatedly asked Rittenhouse about whether he understood the power of his rifle
and that Rosenbaum and the others could have similarly viewed him as a threat.
While acknowledging Rosenbaum was unarmed, he responded that he had no choice.

“I
pointed at him because he kept running at me and I didn’t want him to chase
me,” Rittenhouse said.

He continued:

I continued to shoot until he was no longer a threat to me.

Rittenhouse
said he shot Huber, who had swung a skateboard at him, because he pulled at his
rifle, and fired at Grosskreutz, who was armed with a handgun, because he had
pointed the pistol “directly” at the teen’s head.

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