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Kyle Rittenhouse testifies he knew Joseph Rosenbaum was unarmed but acted in self-defense during fatal shooting

<i>Sean Krajacic/Kenosha News/Pool/Getty Images</i><br/>Kyle Rittenhouse listens as his lawyer gives opening statements to the jury at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha
Sean Krajacic/Kenosha News/Pool/Getty Images
Kyle Rittenhouse listens as his lawyer gives opening statements to the jury at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha

By Eric Levenson, Brad Parks and Carma Hassan, CNN

Kyle Rittenhouse testified Wednesday that he acted in self-defense when he fatally shot a man who had thrown a plastic bag at him and chased him last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in what is likely to be the pivotal testimony of his homicide trial.

“I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself,” he testified.

But in cross-examination, Rittenhouse said that he knew the man, Joseph Rosenbaum, was unarmed when he ran at the teenager. Rittenhouse said he pointed his rifle at Rosenbaum in an attempt to deter him, adding that he knew pointing a rifle at someone is dangerous.

“He was chasing me, I was alone, he threatened to kill me earlier that night. I didn’t want to have to shoot him,” Rittenhouse testified. “I pointed it at him because he kept running at me and I didn’t want him to chase me.”

He said he feared Rosenbaum, who did not touch his body at all that night, would take his gun and kill people.

“If I would have let Mr. Rosenbaum take my firearm from me, he would have used it and killed me with it and probably killed more people if I would have let him get my gun,” Rittenhouse testified.

The riveting, emotional and high-stakes testimony is crucial to both the prosecution’s and the defense’s arguments about his actions on the night of August 25, 2020, when Rittenhouse shot at four people, killing two of them and wounding one. The prosecution has sought to show Rittenhouse illegally possessed the gun and acted criminally and recklessly, while the defense has said he acted in self-defense.

Rittenhouse stepped down from the stand after testifying for most of Wednesday. He was the seventh defense witness, and attorneys said they planned to call several more witnesses to start Thursday’s testimony.

Rittenhouse broke down in tears at one point in his testimony, leading to a short break. The prosecution’s cross-examination has also led to heated exchanges among the attorneys and judge in the case. Twice, Judge Bruce Schroeder asked the jury to leave the room and then sharply admonished prosecutor Thomas Binger for his line of questioning.

Rittenhouse’s defense attorneys asked the judge to issue a mistrial with prejudice for the incidents. The judge said he would take the motion under advisement.

The 18-year-old’s testimony came a day after the prosecution rested its case after calling 22 witnesses over six days. The prosecution’s case was highlighted by testimony from an armed paramedic who was shot by Rittenhouse and a journalist who said the gunfire put him in danger.

Rittenhouse pleaded not guilty to six charges, including first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide and first-degree attempted intentional homicide. Judge Schroeder dismissed a curfew violation charge Tuesday, saying prosecutors had failed to present evidence to support it.

The charges stem from the chaotic unrest in the wake of the Kenosha police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man. The events of that night, almost all captured on video, are hardly in dispute. The question before the jury is whether Rittenhouse’s actions were reasonable.

Rittenhouse lays out the night of the shootings

Rittenhouse began his testimony Wednesday by telling jurors he is now studying nursing at Arizona State University. He testified that he had worked as a lifeguard in Kenosha, was part of a police explorer program and knows CPR and basic life support.

He lived in Antioch, Illinois, with his mother, and his father lived in Kenosha. He testified that he went into Kenosha on the morning of August 25 to clean up graffiti, and then again that night with a rifle and small medic kit and joined up with a group of armed people.

“I went down there to provide first aid,” he said. He said he did not go there looking for trouble.

Rittenhouse told jurors that Rosenbaum threatened to kill him twice that night. In one instance, Rosenbaum screamed, “if I catch any of you f**kers alone, I’ll f**king kill you,” according to Rittenhouse.

At one point in the night, he became separated from the other armed people in his group. He walked toward a parking lot and said Rosenbaum, hiding behind a vehicle, “ambushed me.” Rosenbaum began running at him and cornered him, he said.

In court, as he tried to explain what happened next, Rittenhouse became choked up and broke into tears, leading the judge to call a short break. Rittenhouse resumed his testimony shortly afterward.

Rittenhouse testified that he heard another man, Joshua Ziminski, tell Rosenbaum to “get him and kill him.” Rosenbaum started to chase the teenager in a parking lot and threw a plastic bag at him, but Rittenhouse said he believed at the time that the thrown object was a chain.

Rittenhouse then heard a gunshot behind him, he said. Police detectives testified earlier in the trial that Ziminski fired that initial shot in the air, and Ziminski has separately pleaded not guilty to three charges related to that night.

Seconds after that gunshot, Rittenhouse turned and saw Rosenbaum, 36, coming at him with his arms out front, he said. “I remember his hand on the barrel of my gun,” Rittenhouse testified. He then shot Rosenbaum four times, killing him.

Rittenhouse then tried to run down the street to where police were situated to turn himself in, he testified, but a “mob was chasing me.” While running, he became lightheaded and fell to the ground, he said.

An unknown person jumped at him trying to kick him, and Rittenhouse fired at the person twice. “I thought if I were to be knocked out, he would have stomped my face in if I didn’t fire.”

Anthony Huber, 26, then came at him, struck him with a skateboard, and grabbed his gun, he testified. Rittenhouse shot him once in the chest, killing him.

Finally, he saw Gaige Grosskreutz lunge at him and point a pistol at his head, so Rittenhouse shot him, he testified. Grosskreutz was wounded.

Judge criticizes prosecution for line of questioning

During cross-examination, Binger’s line of questioning twice led to criticisms from Judge Schroeder. The first incident related to Binger’s questions about Rittenhouse’s post-arrest silence, a right solidified in the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution.

“The problem is this is a grave constitutional violation for you to talk about the defendant’s silence,” Schroeder said. “You’re right on the borderline, and you may be over, but it better stop.”

The second admonishment related to questions about an incident two weeks before the shootings that Schroeder has said would not be permitted to come into evidence. Binger said he believed that incident was newly relevant to the case, but Schroeder criticized him for not asking permission first and affirmed the evidence would not be allowed.

“Don’t get brazen with me,” Schroeder said. “You know very well that an attorney can’t go into these types of areas when the judge has already ruled without asking outside the presence of the jury to do so, so don’t give me that.”

Rittenhouse says he didn’t think he’d have to use rifle

On cross-examination from Assistant District Attorney Binger, Rittenhouse acknowledged he used deadly force in shooting at four people that night.

“I didn’t know if it was going to kill them but I used deadly force to stop the threat that was attacking me,” he said.

He also said he knew he was not old enough to legally buy a firearm and so he asked his friend Dominick Black to do so on his behalf. He selected an AR-15-style weapon because “I thought it looked cool,” he testified.

He said his legal understanding was that he could possess a rifle in Wisconsin but not a handgun. “If I could have legally carried a handgun, I would have carried a handgun … instead of a rifle,” he testified.

Much of the cross-examination centered on why Rittenhouse brought an AR-15-style rifle into an already volatile situation in Kenosha. Rittenhouse explained he did so to protect himself, even as he said he didn’t necessarily think he would be in danger.

“I brought the gun for my protection, but I didn’t think I would have to use the gun and end up defending myself,” he testified. He also said he did not think carrying a rifle would “cause a negative reaction” among the crowd.

At another point, the jury was shown video from that night in which Rittenhouse falsely told the camera he was an EMT. “I told him I was an EMT but I wasn’t,” Rittenhouse testified.

In the video, a man wearing yellow pants tells Rittenhouse that the teenager had just pointed a gun at him for standing on a vehicle. Rittenhouse responds in the video, “Yeah I did.”

In court, he testified that he had not actually pointed his weapon at the man and said his admission on video was “sarcasm.”

“I thought that would be the best way to avoid conflict,” Rittenhouse testified. “I thought the best thing to do would be to walk away instead of getting into some argument.”

Jurors began to tire and took fewer notes during the afternoon cross-examination, a courtroom pool reporter noted.

Armed paramedic never said he regretted not killing Rittenhouse, friend testifies

After Grosskreutz was shot by Rittenhouse in the arm, the paramedic’s former roommate Jacob Marshall visited him in the hospital and posted a photo of the two together. In the comments, he wrote that Grosskreutz had said “his only regret was not killing the kid.”

But under oath in court on Wednesday, Marshall testified that he had made up those words and that Grosskreutz had not actually said that.

“I lied. He never said that,” Marshall testified. “100% made it all up.”

He did so “out of pure anger” and in an attempt to stick up for his friend, he said.

In his testimony Monday, Grosskreutz said he pursued Rittenhouse because he believed the teen was an active shooter. He admitted that he pointed his gun at Rittenhouse but said he did not do so intentionally and “was never trying to kill the defendant.”

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