Testimony in the Kyle Rittenhouse homicide trial in Wisconsin concluded Thursday, with closing arguments expected Monday in a high-profile case that has polarized the nation.
Jurors heard from more than 30 witnesses over eight days. The highlight came Wednesday when the 18-year-old defendant took the stand and offered dramatic testimony interrupted by tears and several heated exchanges between the judge and prosecutor.
Judge Bruce Schroeder told jurors that each side with have two and half hours for closings Monday before he instructs the panel on the law.
The jury of eight men and 10 women will be narrowed to 12 by a drawing of names, according to the judge.
The closely watched case has divided observers who consider the young man a do-gooder out protecting businesses from protesters against police brutality and others who saw an armed vigilante looking for trouble.
Rittenhouse’s testimony was crucial to both prosecution and defense arguments about his actions on the night of August 25, 2020. He shot at four people, killing two of them and wounding one. The prosecution sought to show that Rittenhouse’s actions were reckless and criminal, while the defense said he acted in self-defense.
Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty to six charges, including first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide and first-degree attempted intentional homicide. Schroeder dismissed a curfew violation charge Tuesday, saying prosecutors had failed to present evidence to support it.
Prosecutors told the court Thursday they intend ask that jurors be allowed to consider lesser charges on some counts.
If convicted of the most serious charge against him, Rittenhouse faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Testimony lacked emotion of Rittenhouse’s hour on the stand
The defense called 10 witnesses over less than three days of testimony. Thursday lacked the emotion of Rittenhouse’s hours on the stand a day earlier.
Jurors heard from use-of-force expert John Black, who testified that fewer than three seconds passed between the time a protester fired a shot and Kyle Rittenhouse opened fire with his rifle in Kenosha.
Brittni Bray, a Kenosha police officer, testified about collecting shell casings from the shooting scene.
And Drew Hernandez, who shot video of the protests, testified that Rittenhouse tried to deescalate tensions at one point the night of the shooting. He told the jury that Joseph Rosenbaum — the first person to be shot — was “physically aggressive” even before his encounter with Rittenhouse.
Hernandez, who now does commentary for a conservative media website, also testified that he witnessed Rosenbaum at first “charging” and then lunging at Rittenhouse when he fired.
Jurors seemed less engaged Thursday than when Rittenhouse took the stand to claim self-defense one day earlier, according to a pool report.
‘I didn’t do anything wrong’
Rittenhouse testified most of the day Wednesday and said he acted in self-defense when he used an AR-15-style rifle to fatally shoot a man who had threatened him, threw a plastic bag at him and chased him.
“I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself,” he testified.
He testified he subsequently shot at three other people because one tried to kick him, one hit him with a skateboard and one pointed a gun at him.
But on cross-examination, Rittenhouse said he knew the man who threw the bag, Rosenbaum, was unarmed at the time of the shooting. He admitted he did not know what Rosenbaum was thinking when he chased him — but also stated confidently what he thought would have happened.
“If I would have let Mr. Rosenbaum take my firearm from me, he would have used it and killed me with it and probably killed more people if I would have let him get my gun,” he testified.
Rittenhouse broke down in tears at one point in his testimony, leading to a short break.
The prosecution’s cross-examination also led to heated exchanges among the attorneys and judge. Twice, Schroeder asked the jury to leave the room and then sharply admonished prosecutor Thomas Binger for his line of questioning. The first incident related to questions about Rittenhouse’s post-arrest silence, and the second was about an incident two weeks before the shootings that the judge said would not be permitted into evidence.
“Don’t get brazen with me,” Schroeder warned. “You know very well that an attorney can’t go into these types of areas when the judge has already ruled without asking outside the presence of the jury to do so, so don’t give me that.”
The defense asked for a mistrial with prejudice due to the prosecution’s questioning, and the judge said he would take it under advisement.
The charges against the defendant stem from the chaotic unrest in the wake of the Kenosha police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man. The events of that night, almost all captured on video, are hardly in dispute. The question before the jury is whether Rittenhouse’s actions were reasonable.
Rittenhouse lays out the night of the shootings
Rittenhouse testified he lived in Antioch, Illinois, with his mother and that his father lived in Kenosha. He said he went into Kenosha on August 25, 2020, with a rifle and small medic kit and joined up with a group of armed people in order to protect a car dealership and to provide first aid.
A man he identified as Rosenbaum, 36, twice threatened to kill Rittenhouse during the night, he testified. Later, Rittenhouse became separated from the other armed people, and Rosenbaum ran at him and threw a plastic bag at him. Rittenhouse testified he believed at the time the thrown object was a chain.
During the chase, another man nearby, Joshua Ziminski, fired a gunshot in the air, police detectives testified earlier in the trial. Ziminski has separately pleaded not guilty to three charges related to that night.
Seconds after that gunshot, Rittenhouse turned and saw Rosenbaum coming at him with his arms out front. He then shot Rosenbaum four times, killing him.
In cross-examination, he said he pointed the gun at Rosenbaum during the chase even though he knew that was a dangerous thing to do.
“He was chasing me, I was alone, he threatened to kill me earlier that night. I didn’t want to have to shoot him,” Rittenhouse testified. “I pointed it at him because he kept running at me and I didn’t want him to chase me.”
Rittenhouse then tried to run down the street to where police were situated to turn himself in, he testified, but a “mob was chasing me.” While running, he became lightheaded and fell to the ground, he said.
An unknown person jumped at him trying to kick him, and Rittenhouse fired at the person twice. Anthony Huber, 26, then came at him, struck him with a skateboard and grabbed his gun, he testified. Rittenhouse shot him once in the chest, killing him.
Finally, he saw Gaige Grosskreutz lunge at him and point a pistol at his head, so Rittenhouse shot him, he testified. Grosskreutz was wounded. Grosskreutz testified Monday for the prosecution and said he never intentionally pointed his gun at Rittenhouse.
Much of the cross-examination centered on why Rittenhouse brought an AR-15-style rifle into an already volatile situation in Kenosha. Rittenhouse explained he did so to protect himself, even as he said he didn’t necessarily think he would be in danger.
“I brought the gun for my protection, but I didn’t think I would have to use the gun and end up defending myself,” he testified. He also said he did not think carrying a rifle would “cause a negative reaction” among the crowd.
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