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Accused killer Kyle Rittenhouse grilled over self-defence testimony in Kenosha protest shootings

The prosecutor in Kyle Rittenhouse's homicide trial attempted to poke holes in the accused's testimony on Wednesday, in which Rittenhouse described fatally shooting two people and wounding another last year during a night of turbulent protests in Kenosha, Wis., as acts of self-defence. 

Accused says 1st man he shot threatened to kill him, grabbed his gun

Rittenhouse carries his weapon as he walks along Sheridan Road in Kenosha, Wis., before the shootings that attracted national attention in a summer of racial justice protests. (Adam Rogan/The Journal Times/The Associated Press)

The prosecutor in Kyle Rittenhouse's homicide trial attempted to poke holes in the accused's testimony on Wednesday, in which Rittenhouse described fatally shooting two people and wounding another last year during a night of turbulent protests in Kenosha, Wis., as acts of self-defence. 

"You understand that when you point your AR-15 at someone, it may make them feel like you're going to kill them, correct?" asked prosecutor Thomas Binger.

Rittenhouse, his voice cracking, responded: "He could have ran away instead of trying to take my gun from me, but he kept chasing me. It didn't stop him."

The legal case over the summer 2020 shootings has stirred debates about 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.

Kyle Rittenhouse began testifying at his homicide trial on Wednesday at the Kenosha County Courthouse about his actions on a summer night in 2020 when he fatally shot two men and wounded another during anti-police violence protests in Kenosha, Wis. (Sean Krajacic/Pool/Reuters)

Under cross-examination, Rittenhouse said that he "didn't want to have to shoot" Joseph Rosenbaum, the first man to fall that night, but he said Rosenbaum was chasing him and had threatened to kill him earlier.

But Binger sought to drive home the state's contention that Rittenhouse created the dangerous situation that led to bloodshed that night.

Rittenhouse said that after he gunned down 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," said Rittenhouse, 18. He is on trial facing charges of killing two men and wounding a third during a protest against racial injustice in the summer of 2020.

Binger later asked Rittenhouse: "During this entire sequence, no one ever fired a shot at you, correct?" 

"Yes," Rittenhouse replied.

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 says protesters threatened to kill him

Under questioning from his own attorney, Rittenhouse said he was walking toward a Car Source car dealership 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 that there was another protester with a gun in front of him, "and I was cornered." He said that's when he began to run.

Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder rebukes the prosecutor after a defence motion for a mistrial because of prosecutorial misconduct during Rittenhouse's trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Wednesday. Rittenhouse is accused of killing two people and wounding a third during a protest against racial injustice and police brutality in Kenosha last year. (Mark Hertzberg/Pool/The Associated Press)

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, Rittenhouse said, "I shoot him." He also said he thought the object Rosenbaum threw — a plastic hospital bag — was the chain he'd seen Rosenbaum carrying earlier.

Rittenhouse said he intended to help Rosenbaum, but was in shock as someone else attended to Rosenbaum. He said he thought the "safest option" was to turn himself in to police who were on the road nearby.

When defence 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."

Rittenhouse also 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.

Judge lashes out at prosecutor over questions

Prosecutors used more than five 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-defence, including his fear that his weapon would be taken away and used against him.

During Rittenhouse's testimony, Judge Bruce Schroeder lashed out at prosecutor Thomas Binger for questioning Rittenhouse about whether it was appropriate to use deadly force to protect property. The judge heatedly accused Binger of improperly trying to introduce testimony that he had earlier said he was inclined to prohibit.

Binger said he thought the door was open to his questions because of previous testimony and said he was acting in good faith, but the judge rejected that.

"I don't believe you," Schroeder told Binger.

Rittenhouse's attorney suggested Binger might be attempting to provoke a mistrial with his line of questioning. The defence asked for a mistrial with prejudice, meaning that if it is granted, Rittenhouse cannot be retried in the shootings.

The judge did not immediately rule on the request.

Rittenhouse shot and killed Rosenbaum and Huber, and wounded Grosskreutz who, earlier in the trial, admitted pointing his own gun at Rittenhouse just before he was shot.

Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty to all seven charges he faces, including two counts of homicide, one reckless and one intentional, and two counts of recklessly endangering safety.

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