KENOSHA, Wis. — A friend of Kyle Rittenhouse testified that the Illinois teen was “freaking out” and “really scared” in the moments after he shot three people during street protests against racial justice, and that Rittenhouse told him he had to do it because “people were trying to hurt him.”
Dominick Black, who faces his own trial for buying the 17-year-old Rittenhouse an AR-15 style rifle he wasn't old enough to legally possess, said Tuesday he was stunned when Rittenhouse called him seconds after the first shooting.
“I didn’t believe the gunshots were actually his until I got a phone call and I answered it and he just said, “I shot somebody, I shot somebody," Black recounted.
Testimony is expected to continue on Wednesday.
Black was the first witness called after opening statements at Rittenhouse's murder trial that cast him in sharply different lights.
For prosecutors, Rittenhouse was the problem — triggering a confrontation with one man that set in motion the bloodshed that followed. Rittenhouse's attorneys portrayed him as someone out of options who had to use deadly force to defend himself.
Prosecutor Thomas Binger described the unrest in Kenosha as “two of the roughest nights that our community has ever seen” and said outsiders were drawn to the city “like moths to a flame.”
Yet Binger repeatedly stressed that amid the hundreds of people in Kenosha and the anger and chaos in the streets, “the only person who killed anyone is the defendant, Kyle Rittenhouse.”
“When we consider the reasonableness of the defendant’s actions, I ask you to keep this in mind,” Binger said, after explaining to the jury that a claim of self-defense can be valid only if Rittenhouse reasonably believed he was using deadly force to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.
Rittenhouse attorney Mark Richards countered that his client was a victim, pointing to evidence that one man tried to grab his gun and others kicked the teen in the face and clubbed him in the head with a skateboard.
“You as jurors will end up looking at it from the standpoint of a 17-year-old under the circumstances as they existed,” Richards said.
Rittenhouse, now 18, is charged with killing two men and wounding a third during the summer of 2020 with an assault-style rifle. The one-time police youth cadet could get life in prison if convicted.
The teenager traveled to Kenosha from his home in Illinois, just across the Wisconsin state line, after protests broke out over the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white Kenosha police officer. Rittenhouse said he went there to protect property after two nights in which rioters set fires and ransacked businesses.
Black, who was dating Rittenhouse's sister at the time, testified that he and Rittenhouse went to downtown Kenosha to help protect a car dealership after vehicles were burned the night before. Black said he thought nobody would start trouble if they saw him with his assault-style rifle. He also said Rittenhouse helped give medical aid and put out fires.
Black said he was on the roof as protesters hurled gasoline bombs and rocks at the business. He said he heard gunshots but didn't know Rittenhouse was involved until the teenager called and said, "I shot somebody, I shot somebody.”
Binger, the prosecutor, said it's not known exactly what words were said, but it is clear that Rittenhouse started a confrontation that led Joseph Rosenbaum to begin chasing Rittenhouse across a parking lot.
Binger emphasized that Rosenbaum, 36, was killed by a shot to the back after he threw a plastic bag. The first two bullets hit Rosenbaum in the lower extremities, causing him to fall forward, the prosecutor noted.
Richards, the defense attorney, argued that it was Rosenbaum who “lit the fuse that night." Rosenbaum yelled an expletive at Rittenhouse and lunged for his gun before Rittenhouse fired at him, according to the defense.
Rittenhouse fired four shots in less than a second because Rosenbaum was "trying to take Kyle’s weapon from him to use against him,” Richards said.
Binger said that after shooting Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse fled the scene instead of rendering aid, despite portraying himself as a medic earlier in the night. But Richards said Rittenhouse didn’t stop to help because the crowd wanted to “kill him," and instead ran toward police.
The crowd at that point believed Rittenhouse was an active shooter, according to the prosecutor.
Moments after shooting Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse shot and killed Anthony Huber, 26, a protester from Silver Lake, Wisconsin, who was seen on bystander video hitting Rittenhouse with a skateboard. The defense attorney portrayed Rittenhouse as the victim, saying Huber was “trying to separate the head from the body” with the skateboard.
Rittenhouse then wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, a protester from West Allis, Wisconsin, who had a gun in his hand as he stepped toward Rittenhouse.
Prosecutors called FBI agent Brandon Cramin to testify about infrared surveillance video of the protest on the night of the shooting. Prosecutors have said previously that the video would show that it was Rittenhouse following or chasing Rosenbaum at one point. They played a grainy video from 8,500 feet in which figures on the ground weren’t immediately identifiable. After a dispute between the two sides over whether additional surveillance videos exist that the defense hadn’t seen, Cramin, who testified off-camera by the court's order, was asked by the judge if he could return and testify another day.
The defense challenged the notion that Rittenhouse was an outsider drawn to Kenosha by a call to arms on right-wing social media. Richards said Rittenhouse had strong ties to Kenosha — his father lived there and Rittenhouse worked in Kenosha County as a lifeguard — and had seen livestreams of what was happening.
As his attorney displayed photos and video clips from the night of the shootings, Rittenhouse, wearing a dark pinstriped suit and tie, leaned on his elbows to view the images on a desktop monitor. He sat ramrod straight as audio of gunfire was played, and occasionally turned toward jurors, seeming to scrutinize their reactions.
His mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, sat behind him.
The most serious count against Rittenhouse, first-degree intentional homicide, is Wisconsin’s top murder charge.
Rittenhouse has been painted by supporters on the right — including foes of the Black Lives Matter movement — as a patriot who took a stand against lawlessness by demonstrators and exercised his Second Amendment gun rights. Others see him as a vigilante and police wannabe.
He is white, as were those he shot, but many activists see race as an underlying issue in the case, in part because the protesters were on the streets to decry police violence against Black people.
Forliti reported from Minneapolis; Webber reported from Fenton, Michigan. Associated Press writer Scott Bauer contributed from Madison, Wisconsin.
Bauer reported from Madison, Wisconsin, Forliti from Minneapolis. Associated Press writer Tammy Webber contributed from Fenton, Michigan.