After a single day of jury selection, opening statements began Tuesday in the homicide trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teen who fatally shot two people and injured another during protests against police violence in Kenosha, Wis., in the summer of 2020.
In his opening statement, Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger, the lead prosecutor in the case, sought to portray Rittenhouse as an outside agitator or “tourist” who came to Kenosha with an illegally possessed military-style rifle and “contributed to the chaos” that unfolded in the city's streets following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in August 2020.
“Hundreds of people on the street that night [were] experiencing the same chaos, the same loud noises, the same gunfire, the same arson, the same tear gas. The same hostile confrontations with people who believe the opposite as them,” said Binger. “Yet the only person who killed anyone was the defendant, Kyle Rittenhouse.”
Rittenhouse, who is now 18, is being tried for fatally shooting Anthony M. Huber, 26, and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, now 27. Rittenhouse faces five felony counts: first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety. He also faces one misdemeanor charge for possession of a dangerous weapon under the age of 18. He has pleaded not guilty.
Defense attorney Mark Richards argued that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense, first against Rosenbaum, who Richards claimed threatened to kill Rittenhouse. While the prosecution said Huber and Grosskreutz ran after the armed teen in an effort to stop what they perceived was an active shooter, Richards described these two men as part of a “mob” that chased after Rittenhouse and “attacked him in the street like an animal.”
Despite objections from Binger, Richards displayed some photos and video clips from the scene of the protests. But both attorneys offered jurors a glimpse at how they plan to use the wide variety of footage available to present different versions of the events that took place the night of Aug. 25, 2020.
Richards also disputed Binger’s attempts to characterize Rittenhouse, who lives with his mother about 20 miles from Kenosha in Antioch, Ill., as an outsider.
“Evidence will show Kyle Rittenhouse had strong ties to Kenosha,” Richards said, noting that Rittenhouse’s father lives in Kenosha and that Rittenhouse had been working as a lifeguard at a community center there that summer.
Binger said that among the first witnesses who will testify is Dominick Black, who allegedly purchased the AR-15-style rifle used in the shootings with money provided by Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time and not old enough to buy a gun under Wisconsin law. Black, who was dating Rittenhouse’s sister at the time and went with the teen to the protests in downtown Kenosha the night of the shootings, has been charged with intentionally giving a dangerous weapon to a person under 18 resulting in death. His case has been temporarily put on hold until after Rittenhouse's trial.
Richards indicated that Rittenhouse himself would be among the witnesses called to testify on behalf of the defense.
The opening statements followed a single day of jury selection on Monday, resulting in a panel of 20 people — 11 women and nine men — which will be cut down to 12 when deliberations begin.
The shootings took place on the third night of protests that erupted after a white Kenosha police officer was seen on video shooting Blake, a Black man, several times in the back, ultimately leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. During the previous two nights, the protests had descended into riots, resulting in extensive property damage to several businesses in downtown Kenosha. Rittenhouse and others who were similarly armed have said they were there to protect local businesses.
According to the New York Times, none of the prospective jurors raised their hands Monday when asked by Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder if there was anyone in the pool who was not familiar with the Rittenhouse case. Nonetheless, Schroeder reminded the jury on Tuesday that they must make their final ruling based only on information provided in court, instructing them not to look at any news coverage of the trial or discuss it with anyone outside of the jury.
Schroeder already attracted scrutiny to the high-profile trial before it began by ordering that those who had been shot could not be referred to as “victims,” while stating that "rioters," "looters" or "arsonists" could potentially be used.
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