Throughout days of unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after the police shooting of Jacob Blake last year, residents were subjected to loud noises, hostile crowds, tear gas, and mass property damage. But out of the hundreds of people who took to the streets, Kyle Rittenhouse is the only one who killed anyone, prosecutors said at the start of the teenager’s murder trial on Tuesday.
Rittenhouse, 18, is facing several charges, including first-degree reckless homicide, after killing two people and injuring a third on Aug. 25, 2020. Prosecutors have alleged that the then-17-year-old amounts to a “teenage vigilante” who traveled from Illinois to Kenosha with an AR-15 to meet other armed people who styled themselves guardians of local business.
During the protest, which defied a citywide curfew, Rittenhouse was caught on camera clashing with activists near a car dealership, where he fatally shot 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum. The incident spurred others at the scene to pursue the teenager and grab his gun in a dispute that ended with Rittenhouse fatally shooting 26-year-old Anthony Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, now 27.
If convicted, the teenager could face at least 60 years in prison for reckless homicide.
“We’re not asking you to solve a mystery in this case...there’s no doubt. There will be no dispute in this record,” Assistant District Attorney Michael Binger said during opening arguments on Tuesday, alluding to the vast trove of videos of the teen on the street that night.
The idea that Rittenhouse valued saving boarded-up properties over the lives of those around him seemed to be the crux of the prosecution’s argument on Tuesday—and touched on the political divide that exploded last summer amid a national reckoning on race. Throughout the two-week trial, Binger said, jurors will see videos, hear witness statements, and see other evidence that will show that while hoards of “tourists” came to Kenosha to protest Blake’s shooting, nobody even came close to the violence Rittenhouse showed that day.
“This was all property damage. Life is more important than property," Binger said.
The teenager’s defense team, however, is preparing to argue that Rittenhouse fired his illegal weapon in self-defense after sincerely fearing for his life.
“We have two very different outlooks on the events,” defense attorney Mark Richards told jurors Tuesday. During his opening arguments, Richards argued that Rittenhouse had “close ties to Kenosha” and only acted after being attacked by several protesters.
For his part, Binger systematically detailed the events that led up to the unrest in Kenosha—and the circumstances that allowed Rittenhouse to arrive in the Wisconsin city from Antioch, Illinois, last August armed with an “AR-15, semi-automatic rifle with 30 rounds in the magazine.”
After the Kenosha citywide curfew went into effect, Rittenhouse is seen in video near a car dealership when he began to scuffle with a crowd, including Rosenbaum.
Binger said on Tuesday Rosenbaum had been discharged from the hospital that very day, and “came downtown and got caught up in these protests.” The prosecutor, however, noted that while Rosenbaum’s conduct that night was “agitated” as he got in the faces of other people with AR-15s on the street, he was just pushed away and not deemed a serious threat by anyone else.
Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum after the unarmed man tossed a plastic bag that Binger described as the type of bag “you get at a hospital.” Binger told the jury that they will see video from an FBI surveillance plane that shows Rittenhouse actually initiated the confrontation with Rosenbaum and chased him.
“We don’t know exactly what was going on at that very moment. We don’t know what words were said,” Binger added. In the end, however, the Milwaukee County Deputy Chief Medical Examiner is set to testify that Rosenbaum was shot four times, sustaining wounds in the pelvis, thigh, and back, the prosecutor noted.
As Rittenhouse ran away from the scene, still holding his AR-15, prosecutors allege he is seen in another video running down the street with several protesters in pursuit. Binger noted that as he was running away, Rittenhouse called Dominic Black, his sister’s boyfriend who bought the gun and is set to testify, admitting, “I just shot somebody.”
As the first witness for the prosecution to testify, Black said he went with Rittenhouse to downtown Kenosha the night of the incident with a group—and both were armed at the time. The 19-year-old said that he and Rittenhouse were self-assigned “to protect” the dealership but that he eventually went to the roof of the building because he did not want to get hurt or “cause any problems.”
Among the group of protesters following Rittenhouse was Huber, who appeared to hit Rittenhouse in the head with his skateboard and also reach for the gun after the teenager stumbled to the ground.
“He was afraid he was going to be shot with his own weapon,” Richards said about his client’s mindset while he was on the ground. “He turned himself in to law enforcement… he acted in self-defense… his actions were reasonable under the circumstances.”
After the killings, Black said, Rittenhouse “was really scared, pale, sweating a lot. He wasn’t really talking. He just said... it was self-defense, people were trying to hurt him.” Black, who is currently facing charges for allegedly providing Rittenhouse with the semi-automatic rifle, admitted Tuesday that while the night was “violent,” he never considered using his gun.
Meanwhile, prosecutors revealed Tuesday that Huber “actually knew Jacob Blake personally, and he came out that night because he wanted to show support for his friend.”
Rittenhouse is seen on video shooting Huber in the chest before Grosskreutz stepped toward the teenager. Prosecutors stated that Rittenhouse then fired a second shot that hit Grosskreutz’s arm before he got up from the ground and fled the scene.
“You will get the full story in the courtroom,” Binger stressed to the jury on Tuesday, noting that new details will be revealed during the trial. “We will show you as much as we can about the events of that night.