KENOSHA, Wis. (CN) — The fiancée of one of the men shot to death by Kyle Rittenhouse at a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year gave emotional testimony in Rittenhouse’s murder trial Friday.
Prosecutors have charged Rittenhouse with five felonies, including intentional and reckless homicide, for shooting Joseph Rosenbaum, Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz during several days of protests that raged in Kenosha 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 faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder. 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 had earlier chased and threatened to kill Rittenhouse.
The 18-year-old’s attorneys’ characterization of Rosenbaum as an erratic, violent and destructive presence on the night of Aug. 25, 2020, and in particular his threats to kill Rittenhouse, are central to their client’s self-defense argument.
During Thursday’s testimony, Ryan Balch, one of the men who came to Kenosha to deter destruction and ended up guarding the same used car dealership as Rittenhouse, similarly described Rosenbaum as “extremely aggressive” and “always having to be restrained by someone” that night.
This contrasted considerably with testimony on Friday from Rosenbaum’s fiancée, Kariann Swart, an Illinois native who met Rosenbaum in August of 2019 and began a romantic relationship with him. She described Rosenbaum as “a very animated person.”
Swart explained that Rosenbaum was originally from Waco, Texas, and had recently moved to Kenosha around the time they met to be closer to his daughter who lived there. She and Rosenbaum were both homeless when they met and lived together at a motel in the Kenosha area at the time of his death.
Rosenbaum was discharged from a Milwaukee hospital on Aug. 25, 2020, and returned to the motel and Swart that afternoon. He had a plastic bag from the hospital—a bag he threw at Rittenhouse before he was shot and which Balch testified he initially thought might contain chemicals for a homemade bomb—that Swart says contained toiletries, socks, hospital paperwork and an empty plastic water bottle.
Madison defense attorney Corey Chirafisi unsuccessfully requested that Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder allow Rittenhouse’s defense to inform the jury that Rosenbaum was discharged from the Milwaukee hospital’s mental health wing. The judge allowed Chirafisi limited questioning of Swart about psychoactive medications Rosenbaum was prescribed, during which she confirmed he had been taking medications for bipolar disorder and a sleep aid.
Though Swart described her last conversation with Rosenbaum as pleasant and forward-looking, “I did explain to him that things had gotten bad the last few days because he was not in town and did tell him explicitly not to go downtown” toward the heart of the Kenosha protests, she said.
Despite Swart testifying that they were almost always together since they met and that Rosenbaum never went out alone, Swart remembered he left alone at exactly 9:38 p.m. the night he was shot.
She later got a phone call at around 4 a.m. the morning of Aug. 26 from the medical examiner, who informed her that Rosenbaum had died. Swart looked at the Kenosha police scanner on her phone and found a video of “Joe” dying. She had no idea he had been downtown.
“I broke down and can’t get that image out of my head,” Swart said.
Swart collapsed at the scene of his shooting that morning, where she said he put her hand in the pool of Rosenbaum’s blood that was still there.
Rosenbaum as portrayed in testimony on Friday from Jason Lackowski – an ex-Marine who came to Kenosha from Brown Deer, Wisconsin, on the night of Aug. 25 “just to help out” and ended up guarding the same car dealership as Balch and Rittenhouse – adheres closer to the defense’s account, though less menacing.
Lackowski saw Rosenbaum “acting very belligerently” and trying to entice people into violent confrontations but told prosecutors “I didn’t see him as a threat at all to be honest with you,” describing Rosenbaum as “a babbling idiot.”
Lackowski also testified to telling the FBI days after the protest shootings that Rittenhouse had told him shortly after the shootings that he had not shot anyone, though the ex-Marine admitted to “blacking out” for a period amid the high-stress atmosphere surrounding the shootings.
Sahil and Anmol Khindri, two brothers whose parents own the used car dealerships Rittenhouse claimed to have permission to protect, both testified on Friday that they never gave such permission to anyone, Rittenhouse included. Dominick Black, Rittenhouse’s friend who testified on Tuesday, said then that the owners of the car lot had given them permission to guard it.
The jury was shown a screenshot of a text message Rittenhouse sent to Anmol, the only brother who works at the Kenosha dealerships, offering to protect the businesses. Anmol says he didn’t see the text until the morning of Aug. 26, the screenshot showed no response, and he claims he gave his number to countless people offering support after one of the dealership locations was damaged in the early morning of Monday, Aug. 24.
Rounding out testimony on Thursday was a DNA analyst from the Wisconsin state crime lab who analyzed DNA from Rittenhouse’s gun and three Kenosha police officers, some of whom processed the Rosenbaum crime scene and encountered Rittenhouse the night of the shootings.
Huber’s great aunt also testified, remarking the Huber loved skateboarding and always had his skateboard with him, his only reliable means of transportation. Rittenhouse’s defense has laid out how Huber struck him with his skateboard and tried to take his AR-15 before being fatally shot.