Teenage murder defendant Kyle Rittenhouse testified in his Wisconsin trial on Wednesday that he fatally shot two men 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.
The defense made a motion for a mistrial after Kenosha County Judge Bruce Schroeder repeatedly scolded the prosecution for attempting to introduce evidence he previously had deemed inadmissible. Schroeder lashed out at Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, saying, "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 defense, Rittenhouse, 18, tried to portray himself as wanting to help others by providing medical aid during the protests last year in the city of Kenosha and used his weapon 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 penchant for playing violent video games.
"I did what I had to do to stop the person who was attacking me," 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," Rittenhouse replied.
"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 Aug. 25, 2020. Rittenhouse, 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 to the ground and there were incidents of 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 protesters.
Dressed in a navy blue suit and dark blue tie, Rittenhouse initially was composed on the witness stand until his attorney began asking him to detail his encounter with Rosenbaum, who he shot four times. Video evidence has shown 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," 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 her seat in the courtroom watching her son.
Moments earlier, Rittenhouse said Rosenbaum had threatened twice to kill him, telling a group he was with "I'm going to cut your f------ hearts out." The slain man's fiance has testified Rosenbaum was being treated for bipolar disorder.
Rittenhouse faces a misdemeanor charge of underage possession of his weapon along with five felony counts.
'HERE TO HELP'
Binger repeatedly enraged Kenosha County Judge Bruce Schroeder: first when he asked Rittenhouse about his decision 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 Rittenhouse talked about shooting men he believed were shoplifting at a pharmacy.
Schroeder had already ruled that the video was inadmissible.
"Don't get brazen with me," Schroeder yelled at the prosecutor with the jury out of the room.
Rittenhouse has emerged as a divisive figure and politics has coursed through the case. He is a hero to some conservatives who believe in unfettered gun rights and see the shootings as justified during the chaos in Kenosha, while many on the left see him as a symbol of a gun culture run amok.
Prosecutors during the trial have emphasized that Rittenhouse was the only person to have shot anyone during the demonstrations in Kenosha, which occurred three months after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests over racism and police brutality.
Rittenhouse testified that 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, 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.'"
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