Kyle Rittenhouse provoked bloodshed on the streets of Kenosha by bringing a semi-automatic rifle to a protest and menacing others, and when the shooting stopped, he walked off like a “hero in a Western,” a prosecutor said in closing arguments Monday at Rittenhouse’s murder trial.
But Rittenhouse’s lawyer countered that the shooting started after the young man was ambushed by a “crazy person” that night and feared his gun was going to be wrested away and used to kill him. Defense attorney Mark Richards said Rittenhouse acted in self-defense.
Rittenhouse, then 17, shot two men to death and wounded a third during a tumultuous night of protests against racial injustice in the summer of 2020, a case that has stirred bitter debate in the U.S. over guns, vigilantism and law and order.
Rittenhouse said he went to Kenosha from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to protect property from rioters in the days after a Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot by a white Kenosha police officer. Rittenhouse, a former police youth cadet, is white, as were those he shot.
In closing arguments, prosecutor Thomas Binger said Rittenhouse was a “wannabe soldier” and was “looking for trouble that night.” Binger repeatedly showed the jury drone video that he said depicted Rittenhouse pointing the AR-style weapon at demonstrators.
“This is the provocation. This is what starts this incident,” the prosecutor declared.
He told the jury: “You lose the right to self-defense when you’re the one who brought the gun, when you are the one creating the danger, when you’re the one provoking other people.”
Rittenhouse, now 18, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge against him, first-degree intentional homicide, which is Wisconsin’s top murder charge.
Binger zeroed in on the killing of 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum, who was the first man gunned down that night and whose shooting set in motion the ones that followed. The prosecutor repeatedly called it murder, saying it was unjustified.
The prosecutor reminded jurors that Rittenhouse testified he knew Rosenbaum was unarmed. Binger also said there is no video to support the defense claim that Rosenbaum threatened to kill Rittenhouse.
Binger disputed the contention that Rosenbaum was trying to grab Rittenhouse’s rifle. “Mr. Rosenbaum is not even within arm’s reach when the first shot occurs,” Binger said. He rejected the claim that Rittenhouse had no choice but to shoot, saying he could have run away.
And Binger argued that once Rosenbaum was wounded, he was not even capable of taking away the gun, which was strapped to Rittenhouse’s body, since he was falling to the ground with a fractured pelvis. Rittenhouse kept firing, delivering what the prosecutor called the “kill shot” to Rosenbaum’s back.
“I think we can also agree that we shouldn’t have 17-year-olds running around our streets with AR-15s, because this is exactly what happens,” Binger said.
In his own closing argument, Richards, the defense attorney, called Rosenbaum a “crazy person” who was “hell-bent on causing trouble that night” and went after Rittenhouse unprovoked.
“Mr. Rosenbaum was shot because he was chasing my client and going to kill him, take his gun and carry out the threats he made,” Richards said, adding that Rittenhouse never pointed his gun before being chased: “It didn’t happen.”
After killing Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse shot and killed Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 28, while trying to make his way through the crowd. Rittenhouse testified that Huber hit him with a skateboard and that Grosskreutz came at him with a gun of his own — an account largely corroborated by video and Grosskreutz himself.
But the prosecutor said Rittenhouse provoked that bloodshed, too. He said Huber, Grosskreutz and others in the crowd were trying to stop what they believed was an active shooter.
When it was all over, Rittenhouse walked away like a “hero in a Western — without a care in the world for anything he’s just done,” Binger said.
When the prosecutor displayed a photo of Rosenbaum’s bloodied body on a gurney during his autopsy and another of his mangled hand, some jurors appeared to avert their eyes. Later, when Binger displayed a close-up of Grosskreutz’s bicep largely obliterated by a bullet, several jurors winced and turned away.
As he spoke, Binger walked up to the jury box and lifted Rittenhouse’s rifle as if he were firing, pointing the weapon at a wall.