Kyle Rittenhouse’s Lawyer Says Killings Were Self-Defense

During open arguments, Rittenhouse's lawyer argued he acted in self-defense when he shot and killed two men during a protest against racial injustice and police brutality.
November 2, 2021, 6:44pm
Kyle Rittenhouse yawns during court proceedings on Tuesday.
Kyle Rittenhouse yawns during court proceedings on Tuesday. Screenshot.

Kyle Rittenhouse, now 18, appeared in a Wisconsin courtroom Tuesday with deep bags under his eyes, wearing a navy-blue blazer and a maroon shirt. At times, he stifled yawns as opening statements got underway—and as state prosecutor Thomas Binger outlined his argument for why Rittenhouse should be convicted of two counts of homicide. 

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There’s no question that Rittenhouse shot and killed two people on Aug. 25 last year—the third night that angry people filled the streets of Kenosha in protest after a white police officer shot and partially paralyzed Jacob Blake, a Black man, as he sat in his car. 

Rittenhouse, then 17 and a resident of Antioch, Illinois (about 20 miles west of Kenosha), was seen on video opening fire with a rifle on two different occasions that night. He killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and injured Gaige Grosskreutz. He was later seen walking past police cars with his hands above his head, before fleeing the scene. 

The outcome of the case will hinge on whether the jury believes that Rittenhouse was acting in self-defense when he opened fire. 

Rittenhouse has been charged with five felonies and one misdemeanor; which carry a wide array of penalties. The most serious charge he’s facing is first-degree intentional homicide, which carries a sentence of life in prison. The least serious is openly carrying a firearm despite being a juvenile at the time, which carries a basic sentence of up to nine months in prison, a fine of $10,000, or both. 

In his opening statements, Rittenhouse’s lawyer, Mark Richards, argued the teen had “strong ties to Kenosha” and was compelled to help protect businesses when the city became engulfed by protests, due to his “strong distaste for destruction.” He painted the individuals whom Rittenhouse shot or killed as being part of a “mob,” hellbent on “creating havoc and chaos”—and that his client had no choice but to shoot them. In particular, Richards zeroed in on the victims’ rap sheets‚ which Rittenhouse’s supporters have frequently used to justify his actions. 

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“Kyle Rittenhouse protected himself, protected his firearm so it couldn’t be taken and used against others,” said Richards. “Others attacked him in the street like an animal.” 

On the other hand, Binger is portraying Rittenhouse as an outside agitator, and urged the jury to consider his actions in the context of what was happening in Kenosha that night. “Out of the hundreds of people that came to Kenosha that week, the evidence will show that the only person who killed anyone was the defendant, Kyle Rittenhouse,” said Binger. “There were hundreds of people out on the street experiencing chaos and violence, and yet the only person who killed anyone was the defendant, Kyle Rittenhouse.” 

Throughout the trial, Binger said he’ll attempt to recreate Rittenhouse’s movements through the city that night using photos, videos, witness statements—and previously unseen infrared video taken by an FBI agent in an overhead chopper. He was too young to buy a gun himself, said Binger, so his sister’s boyfriend, Dominick Black (who will be testifying later down the line) bought the Smith & Wesson M&P 15 rifle on his behalf. Black is now facing criminal charges for supplying a deadly weapon to a person under 18, causing death. In his opening arguments, Binger also identified several points when Rittenhouse could have left the fray and joined back up with his friend, but didn’t. 

Binger said he’ll show evidence demonstrating that Rittenhouse initially pursued Rosenbaum following a group altercation. The two men exchanged words in a parking lot, and then Rosenbaum began chasing Rittenhouse, at which point the teenager turned around and pointed his gun at him. Rosenbaum put his hands in the air, said Binger. At that moment, someone else, about 30 feet away, fired a gun into the air. Then the two men continued running; as Rosenbaum closed in on Rittenhouse, Rittenhouse turned around again and fired four shots. 

Binger said that a medical examiner will demonstrate that the first two shots hit Rosenbaum’s lower extremities. As he was falling to the ground, Binger said, Rittenhouse fired two more shots. And it was the third shot, striking him in the back, that killed him, said Binger. Binger also noted that Rittenhouse had styled himself as an EMT that night, with a medical bag strapped to his body. “And yet at this time, with Mr. Rosenbaum on the ground, injured, potentially dying, the defendant offers no aid,” said Binger.

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Binger said that the crowd, thinking Rittenhouse was an active shooter, chased after him. Huber, who had a skateboard, caught up with him, tackled him to the ground, and attempted to wrestle the gun from him. Rittenhouse fired a shot and killed him. Grosskreutz also tried to intercept Rittenhouse, and was also shot. 

The Kenosha protests were part of a national uprising against police brutality and racial injustice, triggered by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer. That nationwide protest movement, which swept major cities during the summer of 2020, deepened existing cultural and social divides. Where half the country saw a long-overdue awakening to decades of institutionalized racial abuse, the other saw left-wing lawlessness. And throughout the summer, militia members or vigilantes had been showing up, heavily armed, to face off with protesters or protest businesses—and were often lauded as patriots by right-wing media outlets.

So in the aftermath of the Kenosha shooting, it wasn’t long before Rittenhouse became a conservative folk hero. He’s garnered a large right-wing fan base and been serenaded by Proud Boys who sell T-shirts emblazoned with an image of Rittenhouse from that night, on the ground holding an AR-15, with the words “COME AND TAKE IT.” Fox News host Tucker Carlson blamed authorities for failing to quell the protests, and asked “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?” 

Even then-President Donald Trump ventured support for the claim that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense. 

Jury selection was completed in just one day—surprisingly swift, given the high-profile nature of the case. A panel of 20 jurors—11 women and nine men—were drawn from a pool of 150 prospective jurors who came to the courthouse Monday for questioning. Among the litany of questions from Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder was whether any of the jurors had donated money to Rittenhouse’s gigantic legal fund. He was able to raise $2 million in bail to secure his release pending the outcome of the trial—and among his donors were rank-and-file cops, according to a recent data leak.  

The trial is expected to last two to three weeks. 

Follow Tess Owen on Twitter.