The homicide trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old who last summer shot and killed two people in Wisconsin, saw its most eventful day yet on Wednesday, with Rittenhouse breaking into tears on the stand and Judge Bruce Schroeder berating the prosecution.
Rittenhouse has been charged with homicide and attempted homicide for shooting and killing Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, last August during the unrest in Kenosha after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back seven times by police. Rittenhouse, then 17, traveled to Kenosha from his home in Illinois with an AR-15 a friend bought for him. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in January, and his defense team’s argument rests on the idea that he was acting in self defense.
Here’s what’s court records and video footage indicate happened on the night in question: At one point during the unrest Rosenbaum began to chase Rittenhouse, who had been brandishing an AR-15. Rosenbaum tried to engage Rittenhouse, leading Rittenhouse to shoot him four times, killing him. Others then pursued Rittenhouse, who tripped and fell. While Rittenhouse was on the ground, Huber struck him with a skateboard and tried to grab Rittenhouse’s rifle, leading Rittenhouse to shoot him once in the chest, killing him. Rittenhouse also shot the arm of 26-year-old Gaige Grosskreutz after Grosskreutz — who had been filming the unrest — approached him with a pistol drawn. Grosskreutz testified for the prosecution earlier this week that he believed Rittenhouse was an “active shooter” and that he feared for his life.
The trial now appears to be drawing near to conclusion. Jurors will have to decide whether they buy the defense’s claim that Rittenhouse, who brought a semiautomatic rifle to a protest of police killing of Blake, was acting in self defense when he killed two people and shot a third. The trial might not even get that far, however. The defense asked for a mistrial toward the end of the chaotic day in court, a request Judge Schroeder said he will consider.
Here’s what happened on Wednesday:
Rittenhouse took the stand for the first time … and broke into tears
Rittenhouse took the stand to give his version of the events in Kenosha, breaking down in tears while describing the moments leading up when he killed Rosenbaum and, later, Huber.
Kyle Rittenhouse cries while testifying pic.twitter.com/ZyIn1pt6Za
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 10, 2021
The testimony was the most intense moment thus far of the trial, which began last week. Rittenhouse maintained that he was merely defending himself from Rosenbaum, who was “coming at me.” He claimed Rosenbaum grabbed his gun, but admitted he never physically touched him. He also admitted he knew Rosenbaum was unarmed when he shot him. Rittenhouse said that after he shot Rosenbaum he ran toward the police “because I didn’t do anything wrong.” He said Huber struck him with his skateboard while he was on the ground and then grabbed his gun, at which point Rittenhouse shot him. Rittenhouse said he shot Grosskreutz when Grosskreutz came at him “with his pistol pointed directly at my head.”
“I did what I had to do to stop the person who was attacking me,” Rittenhouse said before admitting he “intentionally used deadly force” against the three men he shot.
Rittenhouse’s breakdown grew so intense that Judge Schroeder called for the court to take a 10-minute break.
Rittenhouse says he illegally obtained the AR-15 used to kill Rosenbaum and Huber because it looked cool
The AR-15 Rittenhouse used to kill Rosenbaum and Huber was purchased for him by a friend, as Rittenhouse, then 17, could not have legally done so. When asked why he picked out an AR-15 as opposed to a pistol, Rittenhouse said he opted for the long gun because he thought “it looked cool.”
Rittenhouse added that he brought the gun to the protests to “protect myself” and said that he would have instead brought a handgun if it were legal for him to posses one in the state of Wisconsin.
Judge Schroeder spent the day tearing into the prosecution
Judge Schroeder was not happy with Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, the lead prosecutor. Schroeder twice asked the jury to leave the courtroom so he could berate Binger. The first time was after Binger questioned Rittenhouse about remaining silent following his arrest. “I was astonished when you began your examination by commenting on the defendant’s post-arrest silence,” Schroeder said. “That’s basic law. It’s basic law in this country for 40 or 50 years.”
“The problem is this is a grave constitutional violation for you to talk about the defendant’s silence,” he added. “You’re right on the borderline, and you may be over, but it better stop.”
The second talking-to came after Binger raised comments Rittenhouse made weeks before the incident in Kenosha that Schroeder previously said was off limits. Binger tried to explain himself, but Schroeder wasn’t having it. “Don’t get brazen with me!” the judge barked. “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!”
Schroeder admonished Binger again later in the day. “You’re an experienced trial attorney, and you’re telling me that when the judge says, ‘I’m excluding this,’ you just take it upon yourself to put it in because you think that you found a way around it?” he said. “Come on.”
Rittenhouse’s defense asked for a mistrial “with prejudice”
Describing Binger’s questioning as “prosecutorial overreach,” Rittenhouse defense attorney Corey Chirafisi asked for a mistrial later on Wednesday. “I think the court has to make some findings as it relates to the bad faith on the part of the prosecution, and if the court makes a finding that the actions that I had talked about were done in bad faith,” Chirafasi said.
Judge Schroeder said he would take the request “under advisement,” but seemed to make clear that he did believe Binger was acting in bad faith. “When you say that you were acting in good faith, I don’t believe that, OK?” Schroeder said. He also issued a warning to Binger: “There better not be another incident.”
If Schroeder were to grant a mistrial “with prejudice,” as Chirafisi requested, prosecutors would be unable to re-try the case.
Judge Schroeder’s ringtone appears to be Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”
Judge Schroeder’s phone at one point started blaring what appeared to be Lee Greenwood’s 1984 ballad “Gold Bless the U.S.A.” The song has recently become a MAGA anthem. It’s played at the top of former President Trump’s rallies, and Greenwood even sang the song live at Trump’s inauguration in 2017.
Coming back from lunch, Kyle Rittenhouse's defense team argues that the prosecution is purposely aiming for a mistrial.
Meanwhile, the judge's phone rings. The ringtone is Lee Greenwood's patriotic anthem "God Bless the U.S.A" pic.twitter.com/xGY3dJd4e4
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) November 10, 2021
Schroeder, 75, the longest-serving circuit court judge in Wisconsin, is known as a strict judge. He’s also come under scrutiny throughout his career, including in the run-up to the Rittenhouse trial. In setting the rules for the trial, Schroeder prohibited the use of the word “victim” — or even “alleged victim” — to describe those killed by Rittenhouse. He said they could, however, be referred to as “rioters,” “looters,” or “arsonists,” so long as the defense could offer up evidence they did those things.
Binger objected to Schroeder’s guidelines. “The terms that I’m identifying here, such as ‘rioter,’ ‘looter’ and ‘arsonist,’ are as loaded, if not more loaded, than the term ‘victim,'” Binger told the court ahead of the trial, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The trial adjourned on Wednesday a little before 5 p.m. It will resume Thursday morning. Schroeder told the jury he expects the trial to wrap up early next week. “I have just discussed the matter with the lawyers, and I’m very confident that we will finish by Tuesday as I asked you about a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “And there is a bare chance, I don’t want to get your hopes up, but there is a chance we can finish on Monday. And that’s the best of my information. It isn’t a promise, but I think that’s very realistic.”