Lawyers have begun their opening arguments in the high-profile trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old charged with homicide for killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wis., last year.
Last August, violent unrest exploded in Kenosha after a white police officer shot a Black man named Jacob Blake, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Thousands of demonstrators turned out to protest police brutality, and some destroyed police cars, damaged businesses and burned down several buildings.
On Aug. 25, the third night of protests, Rittenhouse, then 17, drove from his home in Illinois across the state line into Wisconsin, armed with an AR-15-style rifle loaded with 30 rounds.
There, in a set of chaotic encounters with demonstrators, Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and injured Gaige Grosskreutz.
He faces felony charges of first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree recklessly endangering safety, along with a pair of lesser charges for possessing a gun as a minor and failure to comply with curfew that night.
Prosecutors say Rittenhouse acted recklessly and unreasonably
Rittenhouse’s lawyers argue that he acted in self-defense. But prosecutors on Tuesday painted him as the initial aggressor who chose to take actions far outside the norm, even for such a chaotic night.
“Like moths to a flame, tourists from outside our community were drawn to the chaos here in Kenosha. People from outside Kenosha came in and contributed to that chaos,” said Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger in his opening statement. “The evidence will show that hundreds of people were out on the street experiencing chaos and violence, and the only person who killed anyone was the defendant, Kyle Rittenhouse.”
Had Rittenhouse not acted as he did, Binger argued, Huber and Rosenbaum would still be alive.
Binger described the sequence of events leading up to the shootings in detail, saying Rittenhouse “initiated” a confrontation with Rosenbaum, the first person shot.
At a gas station near the center of the protests, Rosenbaum was acting “agitated,” Binger said, “getting in people’s faces” and “essentially daring people to respond,” including others armed with weapons similar to the rifle carried by Rittenhouse.
It was only Rittenhouse, Binger said, who chose to confront Rosenbaum, pursuing him down the road toward a used car lot. Their interaction in the lot was captured only by infrared camera recorded from a law enforcement plane flying overhead, so there is no detailed video or audio evidence of the encounter.
But afterward, the infrared footage shows, Rosenbaum begins to run toward Rittenhouse, who then shot him in his lower body, Binger said. Rosenbaum fell, then Rittenhouse shot again, striking him in the back.
“The shot that killed Mr. Rosenbaum was a shot to the back. This occurred after the defendant chased down Mr. Rosenbaum and confronted him while wielding that AR-15,” Binger said.
The judge and the jury
Jury selection began Monday and took just one day.
Of the 150 or so potential jurors that had been called to the courthouse for selection, not one raised their hand when the judge asked if there was anyone in the pool who had not heard of the Rittenhouse case. Many were dismissed when they said they had already made up their minds.
The jury is composed of 11 women and 9 men.
In his instructions Tuesday, Judge Bruce Schroeder asked the jurors to avoid news coverage and talking with anybody about the case during the trial, which is expected to last two weeks.
Schroeder, 75, has served as a judge in Kenosha County for nearly 40 years. He is the longest-serving judge in the state. His decisions in the case have already drawn national attention — in particular his move to bar prosecutors from referring to those Rittenhouse killed as “victims,” while allowing defense lawyers to refer to them as “looters” and “arsonists.”