KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) — Sobbing so hard at one point that the judge called a break, Kyle Rittenhouse took the stand at his murder trial Wednesday and said he opened fire during a night of turbulent protests in Kenosha after a man chased him down and put his hand on the barrel of Rittenhouse’s rifle.
Rittenhouse said that after he gunned down Joseph Rosenbaum, he shot another man in the street, Anthony Huber, after Huber struck him in the neck with his skateboard and grabbed his rifle.
When a third man, Gaige Grosskreutz, “lunges at me with his pistol pointed directly at my head,” Rittenhouse shot him, too, wounding him.
“I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself,” Rittenhouse said.
Rittenhouse, 18, is on trial on charges of killing two men and wounding a third during a protest against racial injustice in the summer of 2020.
Rittenhouse was 17 when he went to Kenosha with an assault-style semi-automatic weapon and a medic bag in what he said was an attempt to protect property from rioters. He could get life in prison if convicted of the most serious charges against him.
Rittenhouse said he was walking toward a Car Source lot with a fire extinguisher to put out a fire when “I hear somebody scream, ‘Burn in hell!’ And I respond with ‘Friendly, friendly, friendly!’”
He said Rosenbaum was running at him from one side and another protester with a gun in front of him, “and I was cornered.” He said that’s when he began to run.
He said another protester, Joshua Ziminski, told Rosenbaum, “Get him and kill him.”
Rittenhouse said he heard a gunshot “directly behind me,” and as he turned around, Rosenbaum was coming at him “with his arms out in front of him. “I remember his hand on the barrel of my gun.”
Then he said, “I shoot him.” He also said he thought the object Rosenbaum threw — a plastic hospital bag — was the chain he had seen Rosenbaum carrying earlier.
Rittenhouse said he intended to help Rosenbaum, but was in shock as someone else attended to Rosenbaum. Rittenhouse said he thought the “safest option” was to turn himself into police who were on the road nearby.
When defense attorney Mark Richards asked Rittenhouse why he didn’t keep running away from Rosenbaum, he said: “There was no space for me to continue to run to.”
During earlier testimony, he said Rosenbaum was holding a chain at one point and twice threatened to kill him that night.
Apologizing to the court for his language, Rittenhouse said Rosenbaum was walking down the street with his chain and screamed, “If I catch any of you (expletives) alone I’m going to (expletive) kill you!”
And later that night, he testified, Rosenbaum said: “I’m going to cut your (expletive) hearts out! Rittenhouse said Rosenbaum also called them “N-words.” But he said he didn’t want to repeat the word in court.
Rittenhouse responded no when asked by his attorney whether he came to Kenosha looking for trouble.
Rittenhouse testified that he saw videos of violence in downtown Kenosha on Aug. 24, 2020, the day before the shootings, including a brick being thrown at a police officer’s head and cars burning in a Car Source dealership lot.
Rittenhouse said the Car Source owner “was happy we were there” and gave permission for the group to be there.
Rittenhouse’s decision to testify came despite several legal experts saying that an underwhelming prosecution case had made it less likely he would need to do so.
Prosecutors used 5½ days of testimony to try to portray Rittenhouse as the aggressor on the night of the shootings. But the prosecution’s witnesses often bolstered the young man’s claim of self-defense, including his fear that his weapon would be taken away and used against him.
The jurors were sent out of the room just before Rittenhouse began testifying while the judge explained his right to remain silent and the potential risks of testifying, Rittenhouse repeatedly answering that he understood.
As jurors reentered the room, they filed by Rittenhouse on the stand. As Rittenhouse began answering questions, some jurors appeared to take extensive notes on their clipboards.
Rittenhouse shot and killed Rosenbaum and Huber, and wounded Grosskreutz.
While Rittenhouse is white, as were those he shot, the case has stirred debate over vigilantism, the right to bear arms and the unrest that erupted around the U.S. that summer over the killing of George Floyd and other police violence against Black people.
Bauer reported from Madison, Wisconsin; Foody from Chicago; Webber from Fenton, Michigan. Associated Press writer Michael Tarm contributed from Kenosha.
Find AP’s full coverage on the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse at: https://apnews.com/hub/kyle-rittenhouse