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Jurors hear opening statements in Wisconsin protest shooting trial

Attorneys for the state and Kyle Rittenhouse offered different interpretations of whether the 18-year-old protest shooter was reasonably acting in self-defense based on the volatile circumstances in Kenosha the night of the shootings.

KENOSHA, Wis. (CN) — Jurors heard opening statements on Tuesday from lawyers prosecuting and defending Kyle Rittenhouse, an 18-year-old on trial for shooting three protesters, two of whom died, at a chaotic demonstration over the shooting of a Black man by white police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year.

On Aug. 25, 2020, Rittenhouse, then 17 and living with his mom in Antioch, Illinois, shot Anthony Huber, Joseph Rosenbaum and Gaige Grosskreutz during several days of protests that raged in Kenosha after a local police officer shot Jacob Blake seven times while responding to a domestic disturbance, leaving Blake, 30, partially paralyzed.

Huber, 26, and Rosenbaum, 36, were killed, while 27-year-old Grosskreutz survived a gunshot wound to his right bicep.

In addition to reckless and intentional homicide, Rittenhouse is also charged with a misdemeanor for possessing the AR-15 he used in the shootings—purchased and provided by an 18-year-old Wisconsin friend, Dominick Black—and a citation for violating the emergency curfew in place in Kenosha that night. He faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree homicide, but his attorneys say he shot in self-defense while being chased and attacked by a crowd of protesters after he had already shot Rosenbaum, who they say threatened to kill Rittenhouse.

Assistant Kenosha County District Attorney Thomas Binger began the morning’s opening remarks on behalf of the state. He said the evidence will show that Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum, who was unarmed, fled the scene without trying to help him despite having a medic kit, shot and missed an unknown person who kicked him in the head, shot Huber after Huber hit him with a skateboard and tried to take his AR-15, and then shot Grosskreutz, who was holding a cell phone and a Glock pistol for which he had a permit and also tried to take the AR-15.

Binger readily admitted Kenosha that night “erupted in protest, looting, rioting, arson and violence,” but “like moths to a flame, tourists outside of our community were drawn to the chaos in Kenosha,” causing many residents to reasonably fear for their safety and arm themselves, board up their windows or leave town in order to protect themselves and their property.

“But out of the hundreds of people that came to Kenosha during that week, the hundreds of people that were out on the streets that week, the evidence will show that the only person who killed anyone was the defendant, Kyle Rittenhouse,” the state’s attorney said.

Binger made clear that there is no mystery to solve and that there will be no dispute that Rittenhouse fired eight shots—four that hit Rosenbaum, two that missed the unknown man who kicked him, one that hit Huber in the chest and one that hit Grosskreutz in the arm.

The crux of the matter, Binger said, is the question of self-defense and whether the jury considers Rittenhouse’s actions to be reasonable. When considering whether he was acting reasonably, he said, jurors must keep in mind the context of that night: that hundreds of other people were taking in and reacting to the same stimuli – gunfire, arson, tear gas, hostile confrontations with people who believe the opposite of them – but only Rittenhouse killed anyone.

Mark Richards, a defense attorney from Racine, utilized more than three dozen still images and videos from Aug. 25, 2020, in his opening remarks over Binger’s objections that he was presenting a whole trial’s worth of evidence in what are supposed to be brief opening statements, which Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder overruled.

Richards also conceded that the case is not a whodunnit, offering that it comes down to whether Rittenhouse’s actions “were privileged under the law of self-defense,” based on the imminent threat of death or bodily harm as reasonably perceived by a 17-year-old given the circumstances.

“Mr. Binger makes a big thing out of ‘Kyle Rittenhouse was the only person who shot somebody that evening.’ True. Mr. Rittenhouse was the only person who was chased by Joseph Rosenbaum that evening,” Richards said.

Richards took care in his openings to point out Rosenbaum’s allegedly threatening, erratic behavior, including that he personally threatened to kill Rittenhouse if the two were alone. The defense attorney would go on to call Rosenbaum “ultimately the individual who lit the fuse that night.”

The evidence, according to Richards, will show that a man named Joshua Ziminski shot a pistol round into the air as Rosenbaum was chasing Rittenhouse after threatening him, at which point Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum in self-defense when the latter became enraged and reached for the AR-15.

Rittenhouse—who repeatedly tried to get away from trouble, his lawyer said—tried to run away as a crowd pursued him, some of them yelling that he had just shot somebody, according to video evidence. Rittenhouse eventually fell, then shot and missed the unknown man who kicked him and shot and hit Huber and Grosskreutz after Huber hit him with a skateboard and both men tried to take his AR-15, all of which occurred in about five seconds from the kick to the head to the final shot.

Hands in the air, Rittenhouse then tried to hand himself over to police, who told him to go home, Richards said. The teen turned himself in at the Antioch police station accompanied by his mom just after 1 a.m. on Aug. 26.

“Kyle Rittenhouse protected himself, protected his firearm so it couldn’t be taken and used against him or other people…and the other individuals, who didn’t see that shooting, attacked him in the street like an animal,” Richards concluded. “Ladies and gentlemen, that’s what the evidence will show.”

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