(NEW YORK) — A Wisconsin jury could begin deliberating the fate of Kyle Rittenhouse on Monday after hearing what is expected to be starkly different theories of the same evidence in the homicide case with prosecutors set to portray the teen as a trouble-seeking active shooter to counter defense claims he shot three men, two fatally, in self-defense.
The closing arguments are currently unfolding in Kenosha County Circuit Court.
Rittenhouse was 17 and armed with a semiautomatic rifle at the time he shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and severely wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, during an Aug. 25, 2020, protest in Kenosha.
During the trial, which began on Nov. 2, Rittenhouse testified that he shot all three men in self-defense as they and others allegedly attacked him during the demonstration over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was left paralyzed.
The court hearing began Monday with a presentation from Judge Bruce Schroeder of instructions to the jury that included allowing the panel to consider lesser charges against the 18-year-old.
Schroeder also spent time instructing the jury on the legal elements of self-defense.
“The law of self-defense allows the defendant to threaten or intentionally use force against another only if he believed that there was an actual or imminent unlawful interference with his own person, and he believed that the amount of force which he used or threatened to use was necessary to prevent or terminate the interference and his beliefs were reasonable,” the judge said.
On Friday, Schroeder told Rittenhouse he runs the risk of being convicted on the lesser charges if the jury finds him not guilty of the original counts of first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety.
The judge also granted a defense motion Monday to dismiss a charge of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 after the prosecution agreed that the rifle Rittenhouse used in the shooting did not meet the required standard of a short-barreled rifle under the law.
Immediately following the jury instructions, prosecutor Thomas Binger began giving his summation by telling the jury, “This is a case in which a 17-year-old teenager killed two unarmed men and severely wounded a third person with an AR-15 that did not belong to him.”
“This isn’t a situation where he was protecting his home or his family,” Binger said. “He killed people after traveling here from Antioch, Illinois, and staying out after a citywide curfew.”
Binger launched into detail about the first killing on the night of Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha, showing the jury video the prosecutor claims shows that Rittenhouse provoked the deadly encounter with Rosenbaum.
Binger said Rittenhouse sat down a fire extinguisher he had in his left hand and pointed his gun at Rosenbaum and others. In a dramatic reenactment, Binger sat down a water bottle as if it were the fire extinguisher with his left hand and raised the semiautomatic rifle used in the shootings at the courtroom gallery.
“That is what provokes this entire incident. And one of the things to keep in mind is that when the defendant provokes the incident, he loses the right to self-defense,” Binger said. “You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create. That’s critical right here. If you’re the one who is threatening others, you lose the right to claim self-defense.”
The prosecutor asked the jury to watch the video of the Rosenbaum shooting closely, pointing out that Rosenbaum held up his hands as he ran after Rittenhouse and cited the teenager’s testimony during the trial that he knew the man was unarmed.
“Mr. Rosenbaum is not even within arm’s reach when the first shot occurs,” Binger said, playing the video of the shooting several times.
Binger described the confrontation between Rosenbaum and Rittenhouse as being akin to a “bar fight,” even showing the jurors an image of Patrick Swayze in the movie “Roadhouse,” in which the actor played a bar bouncer who protects a small town from a corrupt businessman.
“This is a fight that maybe many of you have been involved in,” Binger said, referring to the confrontation between Rittenhouse and Rosenbaum. “Two people, hand to hand. We’re throwing punches, we’re pushing, we’re shoving, we’re whatever. But what you don’t do is you don’t bring a gun to a fistfight.”
Binger said that after shooting Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse ran away without attempting to provide first aid. The prosecutor said others in the crowd had every reason to chase after Rittenhouse to stop him.
“At that point, the crowd is dealing with what they perceive to be an active shooter, someone who has just shot someone who is still in possession of the gun, who is fleeing the scene, and how are we supposed to know where he’s going next?” Binger said.
He said those chasing Rittenhouse took the “least intrusive means possible” to stop the gunman.
Binger showed video of Rittenhouse running down a street and Huber hitting him twice with a skateboard, the second time after which, Rittenhouse lost his balance on his own and fell to the ground.
The prosecutor said Rittenhouse fired twice at an unarmed unidentified man who reportedly kicked him in the face, without regard for others standing nearby, before he shot Huber point-blank in the chest, killing him.
Binger said Grosskreutz, who was armed with a pistol, was shot in the right bicep when he tried to disarm Rittenhouse. “Gaige Grosskreutz had his own gun in his own hand. He could have aimed and fired at the defendant, but he did not,” Binger said.
He said that despite lying to people throughout the night that he was a trained EMT, Rittenhouse never attempted to help the people he shot.
“This is someone who has no remorse, no regard for life, only cares about himself,” the prosecutor said of Rittenhouse.
Binger wrapped up his argument by telling the jury to put themselves in Rittenhouse’s shoes and asking if a “reasonable person” would react in the same way.
“I submit to you that no reasonable person would have done what the defendant did. And that makes your decision easy,” Binger said. “He’s guilty of all counts.”
What happens next
Following the closing arguments, court officials will draw names to determine which of the 18 jurors who heard the evidence will be among the 12 that will deliberate on a verdict.
During the trial, Rittenhouse testified in his own defense, telling the jury, “I didn’t intend to kill them. I intended to stop the people who were attacking me.” During his stint on the witness stand, Rittenhouse erupted in sobs as he explained why he shot Rosenbaum.
Rittenhouse, who said he was a former lifeguard and firefighter EMT cadet, said he went to Kenosha that night to provide first aid to people in need and help protect businesses after looting and vandalism broke out in the city, saying he brought his medical supplies along with his AR-15-style rifle and 30-round ammunition clip.
During the trial, prosecutors leaned heavily on video, showing multiple angles to all three shootings, including Huber hitting Rittenhouse twice with a skateboard, Rosenbaum threatening to kill Rittenhouse and chasing him before he was shot dead, and Grosskreutz being shot as he approached the teenage armed with a loaded handgun.
In advance of the verdict, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has authorized about 500 National Guard troops to be on standby to support public safety efforts if needed in Kenosha.
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