A judge paused testimony from Kyle Rittenhouse as he cried uncontrollably while describing how a man “cornered” him in a parking lot moments before he fatally shot him.
Mr Rittenhouse, now 18, was 17 when he killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber after police dispersed protest crowds in Kenosha, Wisconsin amid demonstrations after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in August 2020.
In his first appearance on the witness stand on 10 November, Mr Rittenhouse publicly detailed the night of the shootings for the first time, as his attorneys sought to frame the killings as acts of self-defence against a violent mob. Prosecutors have argued that Mr Rittenhouse – armed with an AR-15-style rifle that night – intentionally used deadly force as he fired at several men, ultimately killing two people and injuring another.
The Illinois teenager, who claimed he was a field medic during protests on 25 August, 2020, testified that before Mr Rosenbaum chased after him, he was walking around with a “steel chain and he had a blue mask around his face” and threatened to kill him.
“He was just mad about something,” Mr Rittenhouse said under questioning from his attorneys. “He screamed, ‘If I catch any of you f****** alone I’m going to f****** kill you”.
Mr Rittenhouse also testified that Mr Rosenbaum threatened to “cut your f****** heart out” and used a racial slur.
Later, as he described running towards a car dealership he says he was there to defend from protesters, Mr Rosenbaum “came out from behind the car and ambushed me”, Mr Rittenhouse claimed.
Mr Rittenhouse and his mother Wendy Rittenhouse began to sob as Mr Rittenhouse claimed that Mr Rosenbaum and another man, Joshua Ziminski, had cornered him.
Mr Rittenhouse is charged with five felonies, including first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and two counts of recklessly endangering safety in the first degree. He also was charged with possession of a dangerous weapon under the age of 18, a misdemeanour.
As the trial enters its second week and draws to a close, legal experts have contended the case will come down to whether prosecutors effectively argue that Mr Rittenhouse’s intentional use of deadly force with an AR-15 at close range undermines his claims of self-defence.
Prosecutors opened cross examination on Wednesday by asking Mr Rittenhouse whether he intentionally used deadly force against the men he shot. Mr Rittenhouse said he did.
“I didn’t know if I was going to kill them, but I used deadly force to stop the threat that was attacking me,” Mr Rittenhouse said.
Later, he said he brought a gun to Kenosha “because if I had to protect myself because somebody attacked me” but could not answer why anyone would attack him, as prosecutors sought to make the case that it was Mr Rittenhouse who made the scene more dangerous by bringing the rifle.
“I didn’t think I would be put into a situation to where I would have to defend myself,” he said.
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger pointed out that Mr Rittenhouse could not legally possess the AR-15 he carried that night, and that Dominick Black, a friend of his, had purchased the gun on his behalf because Mr Rittenhouse was a minor at the time. Prosecutors have tried to establish that not only was he not allowed to carry the rifle in Wisconsin, he didn’t know how to properly use it.
Mr Rittenhouse told the court that he wanted the AR-15 because it “looks cool”.
Mr Binger also has cast doubt on Mr Rittenhouse’s claims that he had medical training, after telling people on 25 August that he was there as an EMT, which he is not.
Despite claiming to be a medic that night, Mr Rittenhouse did not provide aid to Mr Rosenbaum or the other men he shot.
After repeatedly pushing against lines of questioning from the prosecution, Judge Schroeder dismissed the jury and screamed at Mr Binger, who had sought to question Mr Rittenhouse over video evidence – in which he said he would shoot alleged shoplifters – that was previously ruled as inadmissible in court. He also chastised the prosecutor for his line of questioning into Mr Rittenhouse’s silence in the months after the shootings.
Defence attorneys for Mr Rittenhouse have sought a mistrial in the case, arguing that the prosecutors are acting in “bad faith”.
Mr Rittenhouse testified that he believed that Mr Rosenbaum, who tossed a plastic bag at Mr Rittenhouse, was attacking him.
“As you see him lunging at you, what did you do?” his attorney Mark Richards asked.
“I shot him,” Mr Rittenhouse said.
He fired four shots. Mr Rosenbaum was the first person Mr Rittenhouse killed that night.
After shooting Mr Rosenbaum, Mr Rittenhouse called Mr Black, his friend, and told him that he had shot someone, he told the court.
He testified that he then ran towards police to turn himself in as several people started to chase him, after appearing to have just witnessed him killing someone. Mr Rittenhouse later turned himself in to police in Antioch, Illinois, after leaving Kenosha after the shootings.
Mr Rittenhouse said Mr Huber hit him with his skateboard in his neck, then he tried running toward a police line and stumbled. While on the ground, “there are people around me,” he said.
He fired two shots at another person wearing boots that were “making contact with my face,” he told the jury.
“He would have stomped my face in if I didn’t fire,” he said.
Mr Huber then hit him with a skateboard a second time, he said.
“He grabs my gun, I can feel … the strap coming off of my body,” he said. “I fired one shot.”
Gaige Grosskreutz, a street medic who was armed with a pistol that night, “lunged” at Mr Rittenhouse, he claimed, “with his pistol pointed directly at my head.”
Mr Rittenhouse fired into his arm, which Mr Grosskreutz claimed had “vaporised” his bicep. He told the court on Monday that he sought to disarm Mr Rittenhouse and did not intend to kill him.
“That’s not who I am and definitely not somebody I’d want to become,” he said. “I spent my time, money and education providing care for people.”
On Wednesday, during Mr Binger’s cross examination, as the prosecution walked through video footage of the shootings while Mr Rittenhouse was on the stand, Mr Binger asked why he believed Mr Grosskreutz posed a threat to him, more so than Mr Rittenhouse – who had just killed two men and was still armed with an AR-15 – was a threat to Mr Grosskreutz.
Mr Binger repeatedly pressed Mr Rittenhouse over whether the alleged threats to his safety were enough for him to fire his gun, knowing it would kill someone, and noted that nobody ever fired at Mr Rittenhouse.