Kyle Rittenhouse took the witness stand on Wednesday to testify in his own defense and broke down in sobs as he began to describe shooting three men, two fatally, in what he claimed was an act of self-defense.
In a day of sky-high emotions and high stakes, the defense threatened to call for a mistrial and the judge made blistering accusations of low-blow antics by the state’s lead attorney and at one point scoffed, “I don’t believe you” when the prosecutor claimed to be acting in good faith.
Rittenhouse began testifying in a Kenosha County courtroom after telling Judge Bruce Schroeder that he made the decision to do so after consulting with his lawyers.
In his hourslong testimony, the 18-year-old spoke of his background as a trained lifeguard, a fire department EMT cadet and a student studying nursing at Arizona State University.
“Did you come to downtown Kenosha to look for trouble?” his attorney, Mark Richards, inquired.
Rittenhouse, wearing a blue suit and matching tie, answered, “No.”
Rittenhouse said he went to Kenosha with his sister and friends on Aug. 25, 2020, after seeing online pleas for people to come to the city to help protect it after looting and vandalism broke out over a police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was left paralyzed.
“I went down there to provide first aid,” Rittenhouse testified, adding that he brought along his medical supplies as well as his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle.
Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide. He claimed he shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, in self-defense.
“I didn’t intend to kill them. I intended to stop the people who were attacking me,” Rittenhouse repeatedly said during his testimony.
‘I hear somebody yell, ‘Burn in hell’’
Richards directed Rittenhouse to the events of the Aug. 25, 2020, shootings. He testified that he had witnessed a police officer being hit with a brick, another man getting his jaw broken and that he had been allegedly verbally threatened by Rosenbaum.
He said he got separated from his friends who were guarding three car lots that had been vandalized. He said he was rushing to put out a fire at one of the car lots when he again encountered Rosenbaum and a man identified by prosecutors as Joshua Ziminski.
“I hear somebody scream ‘Burn in hell,’” said Rittenhouse of when he reached the car lot that was being vandalized. “I reply with ‘Friendly, friendly, friendly’ to let them know, hey, I’m just here to help. I don’t want any problems. I just want to put out the fires if there are any.”
Rittenhouse testified that Ziminski pulled a gun and pointed it at him when he approached the car lot with a fire extinguisher.
“As I’m walking towards to put out the fire, I dropped the fire extinguisher and I take a step back (from Ziminski),” Rittenhouse said. “My plan was to get out of that situation.”
But he said before he could get away, Rosenbaum was allegedly bearing down on him and Ziminski and three other people were blocking his path.
“Once I take that step back, I look over my shoulder and Mr. Rosenbaum was now running from my right side, and I was cornered from in front of me with Mr. Ziminski,” Rittenhouse said.
Rittenhouse then began to break down in sobs on the witness stand, prompting Schroeder to call a recess.
When Rittenhouse returned to the witness stand, he picked up his testimony at the moment he said he saw Rosenbaum charging toward him.
“Mr. Ziminski stepped towards me. I went to go run south,” Rittenhouse said.
He said as Rosenbaum began to chase him, he heard Ziminski allegedly tell Rosenbaum “to get him and kill him.”
“As I’m running in that southwest direction, Mr. Rosenbaum throws, at the time … I know it’s a bag now,” Rittenhouse said, adding that he initially thought it was a heavy chain Rosenbaum had been seen carrying earlier in the evening.
“I turn around for about a second while continuing to run and I point my gun at Mr. Rosenbaum,” Rittenhouse said.
Richards asked, “Does that stop him from chasing you?”
Rittenhouse replied, “It does not.”
He said Rosenbaum continued to “gain speed” on him and then he heard a gunshot from behind him.
Rittenhouse said Rosenbaum lunged at him.
“I remember his hand on the barrel of my gun,” Rittenhouse said.
Richards asked, “As you see him lunging for your gun, what do you do?”
Rittenhouse answered, “I shot him.”
He said people in the car lot quickly scattered when he fired four shots at Rosenbaum. He said he tried to go and help Rosenbaum, but as people started to surround them again, he heard individuals screaming, “Get his a — , get his a — . Get him, get him, get him.”
He said he immediately called a friend, Dominick Black, who came with him to downtown Kenosha that night and told him that he had just shot someone.
“I had to shoot him,” Rittenhouse said he told Black.
He said he started to in the direction he thought the police were positioned.
Richards asked, “Why were you trying to get to the police?”
Rittenhouse responded, “Because I didn’t do anything wrong. I was defending myself.”