(AP) — When Kyle Rittenhouse goes on trial Monday for shooting three men during street protests in Wisconsin that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake last summer, he'll argue that he fired in self-defense.
Legal experts say under Wisconsin law he has a strong case. What's less clear is whether prosecutors will be able to persuade the jury that Rittenhouse created a deadly situation by showing up in Kenosha with an AR-style semiautomatic rifle — and that in doing so he forfeited his claim to self-defense.
Rittenhouse, 18, of Antioch, Illinois, faces six counts including homicide charges in the Aug. 25, 2020, deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and he could face life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge.
Rittenhouse, then 17, was among people who responded to calls on social media to travel to Kenosha bearing weapons to protect the city from damaging protests that followed a white police officer shooting Blake, a Black man, in the back on Aug. 23. (A prosecutor later cleared the officer, ruling that Blake was turning toward the officer with a knife.)
Rittenhouse and all three men he shot are white.
Here's a look at the legal issues in the Rittenhouse case:
The Rittenhouse case isn't a whodunit. Bystander video captured most of the shootings.
It shows an unarmed Rosenbaum chasing Rittenhouse into the parking lot of a used car dealership. At one point, Rosenbaum throws a plastic bag at Rittenhouse before the two move off-camera and Rittenhouse fires the fatal shots at around 11:45 p.m.
Soon after, Rittenhouse is seen running down a street away from the scene with several protesters on his heels. He falls. Huber appears to strike him in the head and neck area with a skateboard; Rittenhouse shoots Huber, striking him in the heart.
Seconds later, Gaige Grosskreutz steps toward Rittenhouse holding a pistol. Rittenhouse shoots him, badly injuring Grosskreutz's arm. Rittenhouse then gets to his feet and leaves the scene.
WHAT DOES THE DEFENSE CLAIM?
Self-defense, pure and simple. Rittenhouse's attorneys say he came to Kenosha not to hurt anyone but to protect businesses from damage and looting. And they say the people he shot left him no choice.
They're expected to highlight Rosenbaum's pursuit of Rittenhouse, and Huber and Grosskreutz subsequently coming at him. The defense has said Rosenbaum and Huber tried to wrest Rittenhouse's rifle away, leading Rittenhouse to fear he would be shot with his own weapon.
The defense also wants to introduce evidence that police handed water to Rittenhouse and other rifle-carrying citizens, and said, “We appreciate you guys, we really do." They argue that the friendly greeting contributed to Rittenhouse thinking there was nothing wrong with his presence on the streets that night — and that it undermines any argument that he acted recklessly.
WHAT DO PROSECUTORS SAY?
Rittenhouse's trip to Kenosha will be a key part of their case. They portray him as a wannabe cop who came looking for trouble and fame, and that by bringing a rifle to the late-night protest, he was the primary cause of the deadly encounters.
They also argue that Rittenhouse wasn't there to protect businesses but to join other armed counterprotesters with whom he sympathized. Rittenhouse “was the aggressor, there with the intent to violently clash with those opposed to his beliefs,” prosecutors have said.
Prosecutors had hoped to bolster their case by introducing as evidence a brief video taken 15 days before the protest shootings that shows Rittenhouse watching some men exit a CVS pharmacy and commenting that he wished he had his rifle so he could shoot them because prosecutors say he baselessly thought they were shoplifters. Thomas Binger, the lead prosecutor, said it showed Rittenhouse's mindset as “a teenage vigilante, involving himself in things that don't concern him.” But Judge Bruce Schroeder questioned the relevance of the video to the charges. He ruled it wouldn't be allowed, though he suggested he could reassess that ruling later.