© 2024 WUTC
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Defense calls for mistrial as Kyle Rittenhouse takes the stand in his homicide trial

Kyle Rittenhouse testifies during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse on November 10, 2021 in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Sean Krajacic-Pool
Getty Images
Kyle Rittenhouse testifies during his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse on November 10, 2021 in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Updated November 10, 2021 at 5:58 PM ET

Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old who shot and killed two demonstrators at a racial justice protest last year in Kenosha, Wis., took the stand in his highly-watched homicide trial to say he feared for his life when he fired his rifle.

In dramatic testimony Wednesday, Rittenhouse described a sequence of events that he said left him feeling afraid for his life, starting with being chased by a man who made death threats and reached for his gun, leaving Rittenhouse with no choice but to shoot him, he said. Afterward, he was pursued and attacked by a "mob," Rittenhouse said, as he tried to make his way to the police to turn himself in.

At one point, he broke into sobs, prompting the judge to call for a break.

"I didn't want to have to kill anybody. I was being attacked," Rittenhouse said.

Prosecutors spent hours cross-examining Rittenhouse, pressing him on every detail of the shootings in an effort to paint him as the aggressor whose actions escalated the danger that night and made others fear for their own lives. By causing others to fear for their lives, prosecutors argued, Rittenhouse was responsible for the confrontations that he perceived to be life-threatening.

During cross-examination by lead prosecutor Thomas Binger, Judge Bruce Schroeder twice paused the proceedings to admonish Binger over improper lines of questioning.

Afterward, defense attorney Corey Chirafisi asked for a mistrial with prejudice and suggested that Binger's questions were an intentional attempt to "provoke a mistrial in order to get another kick at the cat because the first trial is going badly."

If granted, Rittenhouse would not be able to be tried again in the future. Schroeder said he would consider the request.

Rittenhouse was 17 years old when he traveled to Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020. He has said that he went there with the intent of protecting businesses from property damage and to act as a medic. He was carrying an AR-15-style rifle on the night of the shootings.

There, he shot three people, first killing Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and then killing Anthony Huber, 26, and injuring Gaige Grosskreutz.

He faces seven total charges, including two counts of homicide, one count of attempted homicide and two counts of reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon. He has pleaded not guilty to all seven charges.

Rittenhouse's account of the first shooting

Rittenhouse testified that Rosenbaum was the initial aggressor that night, twice making death threats to Rittenhouse and those around him. Rittenhouse said he was headed toward a used car lot to put out a fire when Rosenbaum began to chase him.

They ran into the lot. Rittenhouse turned to point his gun once at Rosenbaum, trying to ward him off, but Rosenbaum continued to pursue him, video evidence shows. Then, feeling cornered, Rittenhouse turned around to face Rosenbaum, who lunged toward him, Rittenhouse testified, grabbing for his rifle.

"I remember his hand was on the barrel of my gun," he said. Rittenhouse shot four times, killing Rosenbaum.

During cross-examination, Binger emphasized that Rosenbaum was not armed and suggested that Rittenhouse had escalated the encounter when he pointed his rifle at Rosenbaum the first time.

"You understand that when you point your AR-15 at someone, it may make them feel like you are going to kill them, correct?" Binger asked.

"Mr. Rosenbaum was chasing me. I pointed my gun at him, and that did not deter him. He could have ran away instead of trying to take my gun from me, but he kept chasing me. It didn't stop him," Rittenhouse replied, his voice shaking.

Afterward, Rittenhouse called a friend and looked on as another person began to apply first aid to Rosenbaum. Then, video evidence shows, he turns to run away. Rittenhouse said he was running toward police to turn himself in.

"The crowd started to scream 'get him, get him, get him,' and I didn't want to stay there with the crowd building and the mob advancing on me," Rittenhouse said.

Prosecutors sought to dispute that, showing video evidence that appeared to show that no one chased Rittenhouse until after he began to run.

The second and third shootings

Several men started to chase him, Rittenhouse said, including Huber, who struck him to the ground with a skateboard.

"As I'm getting up, he strikes me in the neck a second time," Rittenhouse said. "He grabs my gun and I can feel it pulling away from me."

He shot Huber once, killing him.

Just behind Huber was Grosskreutz, who was holding a handgun. Video evidence shows Grosskreutz at first raising both his hands into the air after Rittenhouse shot Huber. Video shows him then bringing his arms back down, pistol in one hand, to move toward Rittenhouse.

"Can you help me understand, Mr. Rittenhouse, why Gaige Grosskreutz, with a pistol in his hand, is a threat to kill you. But you, with an AR-15 pointed at him, is not a threat to kill him at this moment?" Binger asked.

"Because he was moving at me with a gun in his hand," Rittenhouse replied.

"This is right after you've killed Anthony Huber, correct?" Binger said. "And you're telling us Gaige Grosskreutz is the real threat at this moment?"

"Yes," Rittenhouse said.

In previous testimony, Grosskreutz said that he lunged for Rittenhouse with the intent to disarm him only after believing to see Rittenhouse "re-rack" his rifle in preparation to fire. Rittenhouse testified Wednesday that he was "examining" his rifle in that moment but did not re-rack it.

Rittenhouse said he believed Grosskreutz's pistol was pointed "directly at my head."

In testimony Monday, Grosskreutz acknowledged that, in advancing toward Rittenhouse, his gun became pointed at Rittenhouse — but unintentionally, he said.

Rittenhouse shot him once, striking him in the bicep.

Challenges for the prosecution

Wednesday's clashes between Binger and Judge Schroeder were the latest in what has at times been a challenging trial for prosecutors.

Schroeder's first admonishment came for "borderline" questions by Binger that, in the judge's view, veered too close to undermining Rittenhouse's right to remain silent.

Later, Binger referred to an incident from earlier in the evening of Aug. 25 that Schroeder had previously ruled inadmissible.

Both times, the judge excused the jury in order to admonish Binger, at times growing heated and raising his voice in frustration.

The prosecution rested their case earlier this week. Over six days of testimony, they endeavored to show that Rittenhouse was acting aggressively and that any fear for his safety was unfounded.

But their own witnesses often seemed to undermine that effort.

One witness, Richard McGinnis, testified last week that Rosenbaum had chased Rittenhouse and was reaching for the rifle when Rittenhouse shot him. Another witness, Ryan Balch, said Rosenbaum had been acting in a "hyperaggressive" way.

The testimony of Grosskreutz, who as the sole survivor of the shooting was possibly the state's most important witness, underscored the challenges facing prosecutors.

Grosskreutz testified that he was "never trying to kill" Rittenhouse. But he also said he believed Huber was attempting to harm Rittenhouse, and during cross-examination with a defense lawyer, acknowledged that he had pointed his gun at Rittenhouse.

Defense lawyers also seized on inconsistencies between his testimony and his initial statements to police — including the fact that he was armed that night, which Grosskreutz did not tell police at first.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.