Rittenhouse Trial: Prosecution, Defense Debate Self-Defense In Opening Arguments

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The prosecution and defense sparred over whether or not Kyle Rittenhouse’s deadly actions last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin, constituted reasonable self-defense in opening arguments on Tuesday.

Rittenhouse fatally shot two men and wounded a third in Kenosha on August 25, 2020, after traveling from nearby Antioch, Illinois, to help protect residents and businesses. Protests in the city had devolved into riots over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Looters and rioters raged over the city, wreaking havoc and causing severe damage to property.

Amid the chaos, Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, shot and killed two men, 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum and 26-year-old Anthony Huber. Rittenhouse also wounded a third man Gaige Grosskreutz, who was 26 at the time. Rittenhouse turned himself in to the police in Antioch early the next morning, roughly an hour and a half after firing his last shot.

Rittenhouse is facing six total charges, five felonies and one misdemeanor. The felony charges are intentional homicide, reckless homicide, attempted intentional homicide, and two counts of reckless endangerment. The misdemeanor charge is underage possession of a deadly weapon. Rittenhouse faces the possibility of life in prison.

Many of the facts of the case are agreed upon by the prosecution and defense. Rittenhouse, after seeing the destruction the riots had had on Kenosha over several days, went to the town on the morning of August 25 to help clean up and repair some of the damage. While there, he met with the owner of one Kenosha business, a car dealership, Car Source.

Car Source had three locations in Kenosha prior to the riots. One of its locations was essentially destroyed on August 24, 2020, and most of the vehicles in its lot were torched. After meeting with the business owner on the morning of the 25, Rittenhouse and a friend decided to come to Kenosha that night to help defend the remaining Car Source locations.

Rittenhouse showed up in Kenosha with a semi-automatic rifle and a first aid bag, which he said he brought to render first aid to anyone who needed it. He began the night at one Car Source location before leaving to walk to a nearby gas station. His original route back to the Car Source was blocked by the police. Soon after Rittenhouse walked away from the police, events escalated and resulted in him shooting two men and wounding a third.

The Prosecution

The prosecution, while not criticizing Rittenhouse’s motives for traveling to Kenosha, began the trial claiming that Rittenhouse acted unreasonably the night of August 25, 2020, and the state suggested that Rittenhouse had intentionally sought out confrontation in the moments leading up to the shootings.

Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger emphasized that of all the chaos and violence that had erupted in Kenosha in the aftermath of the Blake shooting, only Rittenhouse shot and killed someone.

“Fortunately, in the entire sequence of events, this was all property damage. And one of the things we all agreed on yesterday is life is more important than property,” Binger said after summarizing some of the damage and violence that had occurred in Kenosha over two days of riots. “Up until Tuesday night, despite all the things the community had experienced, no one had been killed.”

“Hundreds of people experienced those nights, experienced the night of August 25, experienced that chaos. Hundreds of people, and yet the only one who killed anyone is the defendant, Kyle Rittenhouse,” Binger said.

Binger went through many of the largely agreed upon facts leading up to the fatal moments. He noted the crowd around the Car Source that Rittenhouse guarded earlier in the night was aggravated and confrontational, leading to many “harsh” interactions between guards and protesters. Rittenhouse should have known, Binger said, that “this is a crowd that if he ventures out into it, there could be problems.”

Despite the crowd, Rittenhouse left the Car Source to go to a nearby gas station where Rosenbaum, the first person shot by Rittenhouse, was acting aggressively, swearing at guards at the gas station, and “essentially daring people to respond,” Binger said.

Rittenhouse and Rosenbaum first meet near the gas station when, Binger says, Rittenhouse confronts the 36-year-old. The two split off and, as Rittenhouse is walking away, Rosenbaum begins to follow. Rittenhouse turns to face Rosenbaum and the older man freezes, but continues his pursuit when Rittenhouse turns away again. Then, several shots are fired into the air from behind Rittenhouse about 30 feet away by another man, Joshua Ziminski.

Rittenhouse turns, sees Rosenbaum still coming towards him and fires four shots. Binger emphasized that the fatal shot struck Rosenbaum in the back, and that Rittenhouse then ran away from Rosenbaum without attempting to administer first aid. Binger also said that while Rittenhouse was running away, the teen denied shooting anyone to a former Marine who was reacting to the shots and running toward the scene.

Huber and Grosskreutz later confront Rittenhouse and attempt to take his rifle away from him. Binger characterized Huber’s and Grosskreutz’s efforts as attempts to stop an active shooter. Grosskreutz was armed with a semi-automatic pistol when he confronted Rittenhouse, but Binger downplayed the weapon saying that Grosskreutz reached for Rittenhouse with his other arm.

During the confrontation, Rittenhouse shot and killed Huber and wounded Grosskreutz, shooting him in the arm that held the pistol.

“We need to keep in mind the context of that night. We need to keep in mind that there were hundreds of people on the street that night experiencing the same chaos, the same loud noises, the same gunfire, the same arson, the same tear gas, the same hostile confrontations with people who believe the opposite of them,” Binger said. “And yet out of these hundreds of people, only one person killed anyone that night. Only one person shot anyone that night. When we consider the reasonableness of the defendant’s actions, I ask you to keep that in mind.”

The Defense

“We have two very different outlooks on the events of August 25th of 2020,” Rittenhouse defense lawyer Mark Richards began when it was his turn to deliver an opening statement.

“Ultimately, what this case will come down to — it isn’t a whodunit or when-did-it-happen or anything like that. It is: Was Kyle Rittenhouse’s actions privileged under the law of self-defense?” Richards said.

Richards focused on the individual interactions between Rittenhouse and the men he shot, as well as the overall atmosphere in which Rittenhouse was operating, which was hostile and unpredictable. Richards depicted Rittenhouse as repeatedly trying to deescalate, disengage, and get to safety multiple times during the night but being thwarted by situations out of his control.

Rittenhouse was the only person to kill someone on the night of August 25, but he “was the only person who was chased by Joseph Rosenbaum that evening,” Richards said.

After Rittenhouse left Car Source, Kenosha police movements blocked him off from returning to his original post. Rittenhouse returned to the gas station he had just visited when he received word from another person guarding Car Source that the company’s other location was being targeted by rioters and arsonists who were burning the vehicles. The third Car Source location had been destroyed the previous night under similar circumstances.

Rittenhouse then retrieved a fire extinguisher from one of the gas station guards and began to make his way to the other Car Source location. After the initial confrontation with Rosenbaum, the 36-year-old began following Rittenhouse. Rosenbaum was joined by Ziminski, Richards said, showing a photograph purportedly of the two men burning a vehicle and dumpster together earlier that night.

Rosenbaum had earlier in the night threatened to kill Rittenhouse and a friend, telling the two, “If I get either of you two alone, I’m going to kill you,” according to Richards. As Rosenbaum followed Rittenhouse, he continued to threaten the teen. After Rittenhouse turned away from Rosenbaum the second time, Ziminski fired shots in the air and Rosenbaum rushed Rittenhouse, screaming “f*** you,” Richards said.

Rittenhouse fired four shots at Rosenbaum in about three-quarters of a second, Richards said, taking issue with the defense’s characterization of Rittenhouse shooting Rosenbaum in the back. Rittenhouse then fled the scene as multiple people around him called for others to stop him for shooting Rosembaum.

Rittenhouse was running for the police to “protect him from a mob that wants to kill him,” Richards said. On his way to the police line, Rittenhouse was attacked by three men: “jump kick man” who was never identified, Huber, and Grosskreutz.

Rittenhouse fell to the ground and “jump kick man” attacked him, aiming a kick at the teen’s head. Rittenhouse fired two shots at him, missing both before he ran away. Huber then attacked the teen, swinging a skateboard at Rittenhouse’s head and neck while reaching for Rittenhouse’s rifle. Huber was unable to get the teen’s rifle due to a strap Rittenhouse wore around his torso. In the struggle, Rittenhouse fired a shot into Huber’s chest.

Grosskreutz, with a phone in one hand and a pistol in the other, approached Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse aimed his rifle at Grosskreutz as he approached, causing the older man to freeze and put his arms up. Rittenhouse, in a move that showed the teen’s restraint and efforts to escape the violence of the night, lowered his weapon. The older man then reached for Rittenhouse with the arm holding the phone while appearing to maneuver the pistol. Rittenhouse shot his rifle, hitting Grosskreutz’s arm holding the firearm.

From there, Rittenhouse ran toward a group of police. In their rush to respond to the shots, the police ordered Rittenhouse away, spraying him with pepper spray. Rittenhouse gave up his attempt to turn himself in and reconnected with another person he had come to Kenosha with. Roughly an hour and a half later, he turned himself into the Antioch police department.

“He’s said from that day what he did. He’s made no bones about that. He acted in self-defense, ladies and gentlemen,” Richards concluded. “The evidence will show and the law is clear, he didn’t endanger those other individuals. The government can refer to him all they wish as an active shooter. The only person he had shot was Joseph Rosenbaum, who had made threats to kill, who had made numerous statements about ripping peoples’ hearts out, he wasn’t afraid to go back to jail.”

“Kyle Rittenhouse protected himself, protected his firearm so it couldn’t be taken, used against him, or other people from Mr. Rosenbaum, who had made threats to kill, and the other individuals, who didn’t see that shooting, attacked him in the street like an animal,” Richards said.

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