KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) — Kyle Rittenhouse broke down in tears on the witness stand at his murder trial Wednesday as he described how he was being pursued by the first man he shot and killed during a night of turbulent protests in Kenosha.
Rittenhouse, now 18, 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 Joseph 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.
Rittenhouse broke down and asked for a break in the testimony. This allowed him to regain his composure.
On a courtroom bench across the room, Rittenhouse’s mother, Wendy Rittenhouse sobbed loudly as she watched her son apparently unable to speak further. A person sitting beside her wrapped an arm around her.
He testified that Rosenbaum held a chain and threatened to kill him twice during his testimony.
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 is accused of killing two people during protests against racial injustices in summer 2020. His attorney asked him if he was looking to cause trouble and Rittenhouse replied no.
He was 17 years old when the former police youth cadet went to Kenosha carrying an AR-style semiautomatic rifle with a medical kit. This was in an attempt to protect property from unrest following the shooting of a Black Kenosha officer.
Rittenhouse looked composed when he first answered Mark Richards’ questions.
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.
When Rittenhouse was about to testify, Rittenhouse sent the jurors out of the room. The judge reiterated his right not to speak and warned of possible dangers. Rittenhouse answered repeatedly that he understood.
Jurors returned to the room and filed Rittenhouse’s stand. Some jurors seemed to be taking extensive notes as Rittenhouse answered questions.
Rittenhouse can be sent to prison for life if he is convicted on the most serious charges against him.
Rittenhouse was able to shoot and kill 36-year-old Rosenbaum in close quarters. He then shot and killed 36-year-old Rosenbaum at close range as crowd members attacked him.
Gaige Grosskreutz (27-year-old volunteer medic, protester and activist) was also shot by Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse admitted that he had pointed his gun at Rittenhouse shortly before the shooting.
Rittenhouse, like the victims he shot is white. However, it has sparked debate about vigilantism and the right to bear arm.
Bauer reporting from Madison, Wisconsin. Foody reported from Chicago. Webber was from Fenton. Michael Tarm, Associated Press reporter from Kenosha, contributed to this report.