Kyle Rittenhouse told Wisconsin jurors Wednesday he had no choice but to fatally shoot two men and seriously wound a third, saying he was stopping “the person who was attacking me.”
Testifying in his own defense, Rittenhouse said he was protecting private property in Kenosha and providing first aid on Aug. 25, 2020, when his fatal confrontations with Anthony Huber, 26, and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, unfolded.
Rittenhouse, facing two counts of homicide, described Rosenbaum as “the person who attacked me first and threatened to kill me twice.”
He added that Rosenbaum used the f-word multiple times in verbally confronting him.
“He screamed, ‘If I catch any of you f—ers alone, I’m going to f—— kill you,” Rittenhouse quoted the victim as saying. “He said, ‘I’m going to cut your f—— hearts out.’ ”
As defense lawyer Mark Richards was directing him to describe the moments immediately before he opened fire on Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse began sobbing uncontrollably, prompting Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder to call for a recess.
Rittenhouse went on to explain that Huber attacked him with a skateboard and pulled his gun away, prompting him to pull the trigger.
“Mr. Huber runs up, as I’m getting up, he strikes me in the neck with his skateboard a second time,” Rittenhouse said.
“He grabs my gun and I can feel it pulling away from me and I can feel the straps coming off my body. I fire one shot.”
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger challenged Rittenhouse’s right to gun down the two victims that night. He repeatedly asked him if he intended to kill anyone.
“I didn’t intend to kill them. I intended to stop the people who were attacking me,” Rittenhouse said. “I did what I had to do to stop the person who was attacking me.”
On several occasions, Binger asked Rittenhouse why he even needed to be armed with such powerful weaponry that night if his only goal was to provide first aid.
“I brought the gun for my protection,” Rittenhouse said. “I didn’t think I would have to use the gun and end up defending myself.”
Rittenhouse got emotional again late in the day when Binger challenged him about shooting the unarmed Rosenbaum. The defendant said Rosenbaum was trying to take his gun.
“If he would have taken my gun, he would have used it against me,” said Rittenhouse.
“I never wanted to shoot Mr. Rosenbaum. He was chasing me. I was alone, he threatened to kill me earlier in that night. I didn’t want to have to shoot him.”
Outside the presence of jurors, Schroeder angrily chastised Binger twice about the prosecution’s cross-examination of Rittenhouse.
In one line of questions, Binger implied that Rittenhouse had tailored his testimony based on evidence he’s heard in trial.
Schroeder scolded Binger of committing a “grave constitutional violation” in questioning Rittenhouse’s right to remain silent.
“You’re right on the borderline, and you may be over, but it better stop!” Schroeder told the prosecutor.
The DA’s disputed line of questioning led defense lawyers, shortly after the lunch break, to say they’ll ask for a mistrial.
Judge Schroeder didn’t immediately issue any such ruling, and allowed Binger’s cross-examination to continue.
Before he began testifying, Schroeder asked the 18-year-old defendant a series of questions and reminded him of his constitutional right not to testify.
Rittenhouse answered in the affirmative, saying he understood the risks of taking the stand in his own defense.
The defendant said he is currently studying nursing at Arizona State University.
While a defendant testifying is highly unusual, NBC News legal analyst Danny Cevallos said he understands why Rittenhouse’s lawyers allowed him to take the stand.
“It’s a self-defense case,” Cevallos said. “He is the only person who can testify about what he perceived, believed and feared.”
Samira Puskar contributed.