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Rittenhouse tells jurors shooting victim threatened to kill him

The 18-year-old took the stand after days of testimony from more than two dozen witnesses who provided varied accounts of the night he killed two and injured a third at a Kenosha, Wisconsin, protest last year.

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. 

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Kyle Rittenhouse testifies on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, at the Kenosha County Courthouse in his murder trial over an incident in which he killed two and injured a third at a protest last year. (Image via Courthouse News)

Assistant Kenosha County District Attorney Thomas Binger next started his cross-examination.

“Everybody you shot at that night, you intended to kill, correct?” Binger asked.  

“I didn’t intend to kill them,” Rittenhouse responded. “I intended to stop the people who were attacking me.” 

When Binger began to discuss the fact that Rittenhouse’s testimony was his first public comments since the shootings, Schroeder cleared the jury and admonished Binger that he was flirting with a “grave constitutional violation” by somehow implicating Rittenhouse did wrong by availing himself of his right to remain silent. 

Schroeder cleared the jury again about 20 minutes later when Binger alluded to an instance two weeks before the shootings in August 2020 when video caught Rittenhouse telling Black as the two sat in a CVS parking lot that he wished he had his AR-15 to shoot some people he thought were shoplifting. The judge previously indicated he would block the evidence, while technically leaving the matter for reconsideration at trial. 

“Your honor, Mr. Binger is either forgetting the court’s rulings or is attempting to provoke a mistrial on this matter,” said Mark Richards, Rittenhouse’s defense attorney.

Schroeder shouted at Binger that, though he left the matter open with a bias toward denial, “Why would you think that that made it okay for you, without any advance notice, to bring this back before the jury?” 

“I was astonished when you began your examination by commenting on the defendant’s post-arrest silence. That’s basic law,” the judge roared.  

After Binger attempted to justify comparing the incident at CVS to the night of the shooting to establish mindset, he backed off the inquiry.

Rittenhouse defense attorney Corey Charafisi formally brought a motion for a mistrial after the court’s lunch break, essentially accusing Binger of trying to provoke a mistrial to avoid acquittal because the trial was going poorly for the state. Schroeder signaled he would not take the motion under advisement, for now. 

Binger grilled Rittenhouse for the remainder of Wednesday afternoon, in part probing as to why Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum even though he was unarmed. Rittenhouse repeatedly said he didn’t want to kill anyone but had to shoot when Rosenbaum would not stop pursuing him and tried to grab his gun. 

“If he would have taken my gun, he would have used it against me,” Rittenhouse said. 

The state’s attorney pushed Rittenhouse to explain why he brought a bag of medical supplies and claimed to be a medic, but then did not stop to offer aid to any of the three people he shot.

“When you stood over Mr. Rosenbaum’s body, did you know whether he was dead or alive…did you know whether or not it was possible at that moment to try and save him?” Binger asked. 

“I wanted to help Mr. Rosenbaum. And if the crowd wouldn’t have started screaming to ‘get him, get him, get him,’ I would have stayed and did everything I could to help Mr. Rosenbaum, but the crowd just started to chase me and scream at me,” Rittenhouse said, choking up.

Binger did not buy that, saying the crowd only started screaming when Rittenhouse turned and ran away. 

As the attorney and the teen walked through the rest of the night’s events—the run down the road, the stumble and fall, the final four shots, one of them fatal—Rittenhouse maintained he never wanted to kill anybody and only shot to stop threats to his life. 

The court adjourned at around 4:45 pm, concluding more than five hours of testimony from Rittenhouse. Schroeder told the jury he expects the trial to finish by Tuesday, with some chance of concluding Monday, based on the defense’s remaining witnesses. 

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