KENOSHA, Wis. (CN) — The prosecution rested its case on Tuesday in the high-profile murder trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, opening the door for the 18-year-old’s defense attorneys to call their first witnesses.
Assistant Kenosha County District Attorneys Thomas Binger and James Kraus brought more than 20 witnesses over the course of five and a half days. They're seeking to prove that Rittenhouse, then 17, was reckless and unreasonably aggressive on Aug. 25, 2020, when he shot Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz amid several days of protests that erupted in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, seven times while responding to a domestic disturbance, leaving Blake, 30, partially paralyzed.
Rosenbaum, 36, and Huber, 26, were killed, while 28-year-old Grosskreutz survived a gunshot wound to his right bicep. Rittenhouse's defense attorneys say all the shootings were done in self-defense.
Grosskreutz appeared for the state on Monday. He claimed to think Rittenhouse was an active shooter and said he feared for his life upon approaching the 18-year-old immediately after Huber was shot, but he also admitted to pointing his gun toward Rittenhouse right before he himself was shot.
The state’s final witness on Tuesday was Doug Kelley, a forensic pathologist with the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office involved with the autopsies of Rittenhouse’s two deceased victims.
During Kelley’s testimony, autopsy pictures, some showing the deceased victims' faces and gruesome images of their gunshot wounds, were shown to the jury, during which time Rittenhouse was briefly shown looking away from the screen.
Perhaps most intriguing was direct and cross-examination regarding the wound on Rosenbaum’s left hand, which had soot injuries indicating the hand was near the barrel of Rittenhouse’s AR-15 when one of the shots was fired, according to Kelley.
During cross-examination, Racine-based defense attorney Mark Richards got a Kenosha detective to hold Rittenhouse’s rifle in the courtroom to illustrate for the jury how the soot injuries could have been sustained when Rosenbaum reached to grab the barrel of Rittenhouse’s gun, as Kelley testified the two were within a few feet of each other. Kraus argued it was possible Rosenbaum was swatting the rifle away at the time his hand was shot.
The fatal shot to Rosenbaum's back was at issue as well. The prosecution said this shot occurred while Rosenbaum was falling forward, perhaps due to already having been shot near his pelvis, but the defense countered that Rosenbaum was lunging forward for Rittenhouse’s gun, not falling. Kelley could only say for certain that the downward angle of that wound and another graze wound on Rosenbaum’s head meant he was horizontal to the ground when they happened.
The defense began its turn calling witnesses Tuesday afternoon, starting with two people who were protecting the same used car lot as Rittenhouse on the night of shootings, adding to two other such individuals who testified on Thursday and Friday of last week.
Nicholas Smith, a factory worker from Kenosha who used to work at the body shop of the used car lot he helped defend from damages during the unrest, testified he was asked by the son of one of the dealership’s owners to protect the business after one of their three properties was damaged by arson on Aug. 24, 2020, during the first night of riotous demonstrations.
This directly contradicts testimony the son and his brother gave on Friday, when both claimed they never gave such permission to anyone. Smith said the brothers gratefully accepted the help of himself, Rittenhouse and others and that one even promised payment, though the money never materialized.
JoAnn Fiedler of West Bend, Wisconsin, came down to Kenosha on Aug, 25, 2020, armed with her .380 pistol “after seeing all the violence and fires going on” and ended up defending same dealership with Rittenhouse, Smith and others, many of whom she had not met beforehand. She testified that one of the brothers was crying when he gladly accepted their help, and when the defense asked if he ever told them they were trespassing or otherwise said he did not want them there, she said: “No, not at all.”
The defense also called Nathan DeBruin, an amateur photojournalist taking pictures on the night of the shootings who said he saw Rosenbaum vandalize a port-a-potty and carry a chain at certain points in the evening.
DeBruin got into a testy exchange with Kraus during cross-examination about a pretrial meeting with himself and Binger, during which DeBruin claims the prosecutors pressured him to add to his September 2020 police statement mention of recognizing Joshua Ziminski — a man Binger is prosecuting for arson and who allegedly shot his pistol in the air near Rosenbaum and Rittenhouse’s confrontation right before Rosenbaum was shot — on the night of the shootings.
DeBruin said prosecutors’ questions about whether he wanted to add details to his statement made him feel uneasy, leading to his decision to hire his own attorney and meet with the defense the following day.
Kraus forcefully asked DeBruin if he has a bias in the Rittenhouse case, noting that DeBruin talked to a pro-Rittenhouse blogger who has also made disparaging claims about the prosecution regarding their meeting and the blogger has DeBruin’s photos for sale on his website. DeBruin denied any bias and said he does not know the blogger.
Kraus pressed DeBruin on why he included details about the vandalized port-a-potty in his police statement but not, say, Rosenbaum’s erratic behavior and Grosskreutz pointing his gun at Rittenhouse, both of which he mentioned during his testimony on Monday.
“I’m not a detective, I don’t know what you guys look for,” DeBruin explained, claiming he was stressed out at the time.