(Trends Wide) — Kyle Rittenhouse sparked the fatal shootings in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year by pointing his AR-15-style weapon at Joseph Rosenbaum, prosecutors said Monday in closing arguments in his murder trial.
“That’s what triggers this whole incident,” said prosecutor Thomas Binger. “When the accused provokes this incident, he loses the right to legitimate defense. You cannot claim legitimate defense against a danger that you yourself create.”
In response, defense attorney Mark Richards said Rittenhouse did not act recklessly when he shot and killed Rosenbaum, who, according to Richards, threatened him, chased him, threw a plastic bag at him and pounced on his gun.
“When my client shot Joseph Rosenbaum, he feared for his life. He feared for his previous threats, previous statements, and the violent acts my client had witnessed,” Richards said.
The closing arguments, which took up most of Monday, came at the end of a two-week trial highlighted by emotional and illuminating testimony from Rittenhouse himself, who said he acted in self-defense when he killed Rosenbaum.
A crowd chased the teenager and Rittenhouse testified that he shot a man who tried to kick him in self-defense; fatally shot Anthony Huber, who had hit him with a skateboard; and shot Gaige Grosskreutz, who was armed with a pistol. Rosenbaum and Huber were killed and Grosskreutz was injured.
The 18-member jury group will be narrowed down to 12 on Tuesday morning and then begin deliberating on the case.
Early Monday, Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed a misdemeanor weapons charge against Rittenhouse, now 18. He still faces five felony counts and, if convicted of the most serious charge, could face a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Schroeder also read a set of legal instructions for the jurors and informed them that they will be allowed to consider misdemeanors included in two of the five counts.
The trial featured more than a dozen videos from the night of August 25, 2020, showing what happened before, during and after the shooting. Most of the facts of what happened that night were not debated; rather, the heart of the judgment was the analysis of Rittenhouse’s actions and whether they can be considered “reasonable.”
The prosecution rested its case last Tuesday and the defense on Friday.
The prosecutor says the case is about life over property
Binger’s final argument began by noting that the trial was not about politics, or looting, or riot, but about how life is more important than property.
“I think we can also agree that we shouldn’t have 17-year-olds running around our streets with an AR-15, because this is exactly what happens,” he said.
The prosecutor questioned Rittenhouse’s motivation for going to Kenosha that night during the chaotic aftermath of the Jacob Blake police shooting. He noted that Rittenhouse crossed state lines, violated curfew and was not protecting his family or property. He also spent the night lying about being an EMT, Binger said.
Using various videos, Binger traced the course of events that night, from Rittenhouse’s decision to go downtown, to the shootings at Rosenbaum and the second series of shootings while trying to flee. Jurors were paying close attention to the series of videos and images, according to a reporter in court.
Binger argued that Rittenhouse provoked Rosenbaum by pointing a gun at him before the man chased after him. The prosecutor dismissed Rittenhouse’s “wild theory” that Rosenbaum, who had nothing on his hands when Rittenhouse shot him, was going to take the teen’s gun and kill other people.
“They have to convince you that Joseph Rosenbaum was going to take that gun and use it against the defendant because they know you cannot claim self-defense against an unarmed man like this,” he said. “You lose the right to self-defense when you are the one who brought the weapon, when you are the one who creates the danger, when you are the one who provokes other people.”
A number of witnesses testified during the trial that Rosenbaum had acted erratically and previously threatened Rittenhouse. But the prosecutor noted that there was no video of any threat and questioned whether it really happened. Instead, Binger described the 1.62-meter-tall Rosenbaum as “a little dog” who was all barking and not biting.
In the second incident of the shooting, the crowd confronted Rittenhouse because they reasonably believed he was an active shooter, Binger said.
“That crowd was right, that crowd was full of heroes; that crowd did something that I’m honestly not sure I would have had the courage to do,” he said.
Rittenhouse, meanwhile, acted recklessly by loading his weapon with full metal jacket ammunition capable of piercing armor and having little understanding of the weapon or the consequences of his actions, Binger argued.
“On the witness stand, he broke down crying for himself, not for anyone he hurt that night,” he said. “No regrets, no concern for anyone else.”
Defense says ‘active shooter’ is a skewed phrase
In the final defense argument, Richards reviewed the testimony of each witness and tried to establish reasonable doubts that his client acted criminally.
He said he had no doubt that Rosenbaum, whom he called “irrational and crazy,” would have shot Rittenhouse if he had managed to grab the teen’s gun.
“My client didn’t shoot anyone until he was hunted down and cornered,” Richards said.
The second series of shots came when Rittenhouse fell and was attacked by a “mob,” Richards said. The lawyer rejected the accusation that qualifies him as an “active shooter”.
“Kyle was not an active shooter. That’s a buzzword the state wants to hang onto because it excuses the actions of that mob,” he said.
Above all, Richards emphasized that Rittenhouse did not have to take the stand, but did so to tell the jury about his experience that night, Richards said.
“We wanted to tell you our version of events. We have nothing to hide,” he said.
Rittenhouse, who lived in nearby Antioch, Illinois, worked near Kenosha as a lifeguard and his father lived in town. Richards argued that the teenager did not have a master plan to provoke violence and simply wanted to help the people of Kenosha that night.
“When you came here, are we to believe that you are working to clean graffiti, and that you are not paid because you are here to look for trouble? Is it all a master plan? That’s ridiculous. You came here, trying to help see the damage. That is what he did, “he said.
Finally, Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney James Kraus delivered the prosecution’s rebuttal, saying Rittenhouse should have “exhausted all methods” of self-defense before shooting.
“Punch him in the face, kick him in the balls, knee him in the face, hit him with your gun,” he said. “You can’t immediately shoot someone.”
Judge dismisses weapons charge against Rittenhouse
The judge’s dismissal of the misdemeanor charge was part of a debate over jury instructions and misdemeanors on Monday. That charge, possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under the age of 18, was punishable by up to nine months in prison.
Still, Rittenhouse is charged with qualified reckless manslaughter in Rosenbaum’s death, recklessly endangering the safety of Richard McGinnis, and attempting to recklessly endanger the safety of an unknown person identified in court as a “kicking man with jump”.
He is also charged with first-degree murder while using a dangerous weapon in Huber’s death. It is the most severe charge Rittenhouse faces and the only charge that carries a mandatory life sentence.
Judge Schroeder instructed the jury Monday for misdemeanors including intentional murder in the second degree and reckless murder in the first degree in Huber’s death. Both crimes are punishable by up to 60 years in prison.
For shooting Grosskreutz, Rittenhouse is charged with attempted murder, punishable by up to 60 years in prison. Schroeder also instructed jurors on misdemeanors of attempted second degree or first degree murder that recklessly endangers safety.
Instructions to the jury on Monday lasted more than an hour. Schroeder stopped midway to discuss them further with the attorneys and noted how intricate they are.
“They are certainly right in what they say, I just think they are not clear,” he said.
In a conference Friday on jury instructions, the judge told Rittenhouse that presenting misdemeanors to the jury reduces the chance of a second trial but increases the risk of a conviction. Schroeder explained that if the prosecution cannot establish Rittenhouse’s guilt for the accused crime beyond a reasonable doubt, then the jury must acquit him.
The upcoming deliberations will be closely followed at the local level. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers announced that 500 National Guard soldiers are on standby outside Kenosha, before a possible verdict.
Trends Wide’s Steve Almasy, Aya Elamroussi, Mike Hayes, and Amir Vera contributed to this report.