KENOSHA, Wis. (CN) — Kyle Rittenhouse took the stand Wednesday morning in a trial to determine whether he is guilty of intentional homicide and other felonies for killing two people and injuring a third with a semiautomatic rifle at a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year.
Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder instructed Rittenhouse of his rights and checked his willingness to testify on his own behalf before he took the stand. He answered the judge's questions only with "Yes, your honor" or "No, your honor."
Rittenhouse, who lived with his mom and two sisters Antioch, Illinois, at the time of the shootings, said he currently lives in Walworth County, Wisconsin. He is a nursing student at Arizona State University, he said.
The teen recounted how he was in Kenosha to clean up graffiti on the morning of Aug. 25, 2020, after seeing videos of protests, riots, violence and property damage on social media. Eventually he and his friend, Dominick Black, met up with others – some of whom have testified in his trial – to defend three used car dealership properties with the blessing and assistance of the sons of the properties' owners.
Rittenhouse, then 17, was armed with an AR-15 for his protection and brought along a medic bag, mainly intending to administer first aid to those in need.
Joseph Rosenbaum – one of two men he shot and killed that night, along with 26-year-old Anthony Huber – and Rittenhouse encountered each other at various points. The 36-year-old Rosenbaum twice threatened to kill him and others he was with, Rittenhouse said.
Later in the evening, Rittenhouse found himself alone at one of the dealership's properties where he had heard people were smashing cars and starting fires. It was then that Rosenbaum "came out from behind a car and ambushed me," Rittenhouse said, at the same time another man, Joshua Ziminski, appeared and stepped toward him with a pistol in his hand.
Rittenhouse broke down sobbing as he began explaining how he was cornered by Ziminski and Rosenbaum, at which point Schroeder interjected and called for a break. The defendant claimed that Ziminski – who has been charged with arson – instructed Rosenbaum to “get him” and “kill him,” referring to Rittenhouse.
Rittenhouse ran and Rosenbaum threw the plastic hospital bag several witnesses have testified they saw him carrying at Rittenhouse, though Rittenhouse said he thought at the time it was a steel chain he saw Rosenbaum possessed earlier in the night.
The defendant claims he ran out of space to run, Rosenbaum cornered and gained on him, then put his hand on the barrel of his AR-15.
Rittenhouse then shot four times, killing Rosenbaum. As a videographer in the area who testified last week, Richie McGinniss, administered aid to Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse pulled out his phone and called Black.
“I told him, ‘I just shot somebody. I had to shoot him,’” Rittenhouse testified, further saying, “I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself.”
Rittenhouse said he then ran away in order to turn himself over to police as he was chased by what he called a “mob,” some members of which called out for someone to capture him.
Eventually he fell to the ground after being struck with a rock, Rittenhouse said. Then, in quick succession, he shot Huber and paramedic Gaige Grosskreutz when the former hit him with a skateboard and tried to take his gun and the latter approached with a pistol pointed at his head.
Because the Kenosha Police Department was fenced off that night, and because Kenosha cops he approached to turn himself in would not take him, Rittenhouse said he went home just across the state line to Antioch, Illinois, with Black. He then went to the Antioch police station with his mother, where he says he vomited and had panic attacks.