Rittenhouse Fired Shots When Rioters Attacked, Defense Says
(Bloomberg) -- Kyle Rittenhouse fired shots that killed two men and injured a third at a chaotic Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, because the teenager “feared for his life” as he was attacked by rioters, his defense lawyer told jurors at the end of his murder trial.
Rittenhouse wasn’t doing anything improper when he brought an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to the city the night of the protests in August 2020, Mark D. Richards said Monday. But video evidence showed Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, was chased by the men he shot at, including some who tried to take his gun or hit him or ambush him, Richards said.
The defense lawyer said the evidence contradicts the argument of prosecutor Thomas Binger that Rittenhouse’s victims attacked him because he appeared to be a mass shooter targeting protesters.
“This active shooter BS is something Mr. Binger is trying to sell you people,” Richards told the jury. “Mr Binger must live in fairy-tale land.”
Rittenhouse, 18, is accused of homicide in the deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, as well as attempted homicide for shooting Gaige Grosskreutz. During the trial, Rittenhouse said he fired in self defense, and that he’d gone to Kenosha from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to help protect businesses from vandals and to provide medical aid.
Jury deliberations are scheduled to begin Tuesday.
The shootings, captured in large part on cell phone video, came amid social upheaval across the U.S. following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by a White Minneapolis police officer. Rittenhouse has become a hero in conservative circles and an emblem of racism and vigilante justice among progressives.
Earlier on Monday, the prosecutor told the 12-person jury that Rittenhouse killed two men who were responding reasonably to the presence of a teenager brandishing a deadly weapon among protesters.
“This isn’t a situation where he was protecting his home or his family,” Binger said, adding, “You cannot claim the right to self-defense for a danger you create.”
In his closing statement, the teenager’s defense lawyer characterized the protesters as “individuals working as a mob,” destroying property, using inflammatory language and “creating havoc.”
“Mr. Rosenbaum was shot because he was chasing my client and was going to take his gun and was going to follow through on his threats” against Rittenhouse, Richards said. Rosenbaum was “irrational and crazy” and would have killed Rittenhouse if he’d managed to seize the gun, Richards said.
Huber was shot after he hit Rittenhouse with his skateboard. “A skateboard can cause death or great bodily harm, ladies and gentleman,” Richards said. Grosskreutz, who had a pistol in his hand, was shot during the same encounter, the defense lawyer said. Grosskreutz never fired his gun and testified that he put his hands up.
The prosecutor acknowledged property damage during the unrest but said, “What you don’t get to do is kill someone on the street for committing arson.”
Binger said Rittenhouse chose to put himself into a volatile situation at the protest that night despite warnings from city authorities to stay away. The prosecutor said the teenager was among a group of armed “chaos tourists” and “wannabe soldiers acting tough” who claimed to be protecting property from protesters.
Rittenhouse’s claim of self-defense is a “pathetic excuse” and not a legal justification for his actions, which only escalated the conflict that led to two men being shot to death, Binger said. Neither of the men Rittenhouse shot at posed a threat to his life, the prosecutor said.
“The defendant provoked everything” that happened that night, Binger said.
The teen had posed a threat to the crowd, which he knew was hostile to him after he’d shot and killed Rosenbaum and considered him to be an active shooter, Binger said. “That crowd was full of heroes,” Binger said, including Huber, who ended up choosing to “forfeit his life” to stop a rampage.
Just before the closing arguments started, Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed a count of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18. Rittenhouse still faces five charges, including first-degree reckless homicide and first-degree intentional homicide. If convicted on the most serious charges, he faces the possibility of life in prison without parole.
Rittenhouse was 17 when he traveled about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north from his home in Antioch just two days after a White Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, seven times in the back and side. Blake, 30, was paralyzed from the waist down.
The Kenosha case has further inflamed the national conversation around race and law enforcement. While Wisconsin is an open-carry state, Rittenhouse, who is White, wasn’t challenged by police despite his young age and being out after curfew. None of the armed individuals at the rally were arrested even as they violated the curfew, but more than 150 protesters were, according to lawsuits filed against the city and county.
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