An emotional Kyle Rittenhouse took a deep breath when asked to explain why, after he shot and killed two people, a crowd trying to stop him posed a bigger threat than he did.
In the middle of an emotional cross-examination at the high-profile murder trial Wednesday, Assistant DA Thomas Binger showed Rittenhouse a photo of him pointing his assault-style rifle at Gaige Grosskreutz, a man who’d approached him with a handgun shortly after Rittenhouse shot and killed two other men during unrest in Kenosha last August.
“[Gaige Grosskreutz] has a pistol not aimed at you, you’ve got an AR-15 aimed at him. Why is he more of a threat to you than you are to him?” asked Binger.
“Because he’s moving at me with a gun in his hand,” responded Rittenhouse, 18, who appeared overwhelmed.
“This is right after you killed Mr. [Anthony] Huber… This is right after you shot two shots point-blank at the man running toward the camera, and you’re telling us Mr. Grosskreutz is the real threat?”
It was part of Rittenhouse’s dramatic testimony about the night of August 25, 2020, when he killed Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum with an AR-15-style rifle during the chaotic unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, following a police shooting of a Black man there two days before. Rittenhouse had traveled to Kenosha from Antioch, Illinois, about 20 miles away, supposedly to “protect” businesses from the unrest.
Rittenhouse’s time on the stand was the centerpiece of the most chaotic and tense day of the trial thus far. During Wednesday’s court session, the judge chewed out the prosecution, accusing them of acting in bad faith; the defense requested a “mistrial with prejudice”; and the trial had to be briefly adjourned because Rittenhouse broke down crying. Despite the chaos, the day seemingly marked one of the best showings by the prosecution of the entire trial, as they attempted to paint Rittenhouse as a reckless teenage vigilante who got in over his head and didn’t do everything he could to refrain from killing people.
The defense and the prosecution agree that Rittenhouse shot Joseph Rosenbaum, who was unarmed, after Rosenbaum chased him in a parking lot. After killing Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse fled the scene, and claimed he was headed toward police, but was confronted by a group of people. Rittenhouse fell, and while on the ground, he shot and killed Huber, who had hit him with a skateboard, and also shot and injured Grosskreutz, who’d approached him with a handgun. (Grosskreutz testified he thought Rittenhouse was an active shooter.)
The prosecution broke down a video frame by frame showing the moments before Rittenhouse shot and killed Rosenbaum. Binger said Rosenbaum was unarmed and highlighted Rittenhouse pointing the gun at Rosenbaum during the chase, several moments before shooting him. He said that if Rittenhouse felt like his life was in jeopardy, as he has claimed, Rosenbaum certainly must have felt the same way, and that Rittenhouse aggravated the situation.
“When you point a gun at someone, that’s going to make them feel like they’re about to die, right?” asked Binger. “That’s what you wanted him to feel.”
“No!” exclaimed Rittenhouse.
“You wanted him to get the message that if you come any closer, I’m going to kill you.”
“I pointed the gun at him so he would stop chasing me... I didn’t want to kill Mr. Rosenbaum,” said Rittenhouse.
The defense argued that Rosenbaum sought to seize Rittenhouse’s weapon during the fateful encounter. Binger implied that Rittenhouse might have been able to keep running, and had his gun strapped to him, so it would have been hard for Rosenbaum to get the weapon. Essentially, Binger argued, Rittenhouse could have done more before deciding to shoot Rosenbaum, and Rosenbaum may have wanted to separate Rittenhouse from the weapon to defend himself.
“If I would have let Mr. Rosenbaum get my firearm, he would have used it to kill me and possibly more people,” Rittenhouse said in response.
Rittenhouse not appreciating the deadliness of the AR-15 nor grasping what impact it may have had among the crowd was a frequent topic of the prosecution’s questioning. Binger was assertive, at times asking the same question multiple times. Rittenhouse’s mother broke down in tears several times during the prosecution’s questioning of her son.
Previously in the trial, a big moment occurred for the defense when Grosskreutz testified he wasn’t shot until he stepped toward Rittenhouse with his weapon. The prosecution showed a frame of Rittenhouse pointing his rifle at Grosskreutz, which Rittenhouse argued was misleading.
Binger asked what Rittenhouse would have done if he was in the crowd’s shoes.
“If you had seen someone running up the street with a gun and the crowd was saying he just shot someone... like they were saying about you,” said Binger, “You would take action to stop them, wouldn’t you?”
“No, I wouldn’t have,” Rittenhouse said.
Binger mentioned several times that while Rittenhouse was purporting to be a medic on the scene, he didn’t do anything to help the men he shot. Shortly after, the prosecution ended their questioning of Rittenhouse.
The teen’s murder trial has been extremely polarizing in the United States; on the left, Rittenhouse is seen as a vigilante who was looking for blood in Kenosha that evening, whereas on the right, he’s viewed as a teenager who killed in self-defense. In some far-right corners, Rittenhouse is being treated as a hero.
The trial continued on Thursday, Veterans Day, where Judge Bruce Schroeder began the session by leading the courtroom in a round of applause for the veterans in the crowd. Schroeder expressed his hopes that the prosecution and defense could wrap up their final arguments by the time Friday’s court session is adjourned.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.