Kyle Rittenhouse, the US teenager facing charges for fatally shooting demonstrators at a racial justice protest last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has taken the stand at his own trial, insisting that he acted in self-defence as he feared for his life.
Rittenhouse’s dramatic testimony on Wednesday was halted repeatedly, including when Judge Bruce Schroeder ordered a break after the 18 year old began sobbing while recalling the events that led to the shootings.
Rittenhouse, who was carrying an AR-15 rifle on the night of the events on August 25, 2020, said he was threatened, chased and ambushed by the people he shot.
He fatally shot two demonstrators and injured a third amid a wave of Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man.
“I didn’t intend to kill them. I intended to stop the people who were attacking me,” Rittenhouse told the court.
“By killing them,” Prosecutor Thomas Binger said.
“I did what I had to do to stop the person who was attacking me,” Rittenhouse responded.
Prosecutors have accused Rittenhouse of instigating confrontations with protesters.
He is facing homicide charges, carrying a possible life sentence, for shooting Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, dead and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, now 27, in the arm.
Rittenhouse says he was in downtown Kenosha with his rifle and a medical bag to help protect property and people as riots were taking place.
He told the court on Wednesday that Rosenbaum had verbally threatened to kill him and tried to grab his gun, that Huber hit him with a skateboard and reached for his rifle, and Grosskreutz, who was carrying a pistol, was lowering his gun towards Rittenhouse’s head.
Grosskreutz told jurors earlier this week that his hands were in the air when Rittenhouse shot him, stressing that he never intended to use the gun he was holding. “At that moment, I felt that I had to do something to try and prevent myself from being killed or shot,” Grosskreutz said.
But Rittenhouse said he sought to turn himself in after shooting Rosenbaum and was not seeking a clash with protesters.
“I didn’t do anything wrong; I defended myself,” he said.
The trial has ignited a debate across the US over race relations, gun violence and vigilantism.
The protests against the shooting of Blake came months after the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, which sparked nationwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Binger, the prosecutor, on Wednesday highlighted that Rittenhouse was not old enough to possess a gun in Wisconsin at the time of the shootings.
He also questioned the teenager over misrepresenting his medical qualifications while offering help to people that night.
Rittenhouse said he was in a cadet programme with a fire department, where he had received some emergency medical training.
Binger’s cross-examination of Rittenhouse was halted twice by the judge for raising issues that were not approved in pre-trial hearings and questioning Rittenhouse’s post-arrest silence until his testimony on Wednesday, which is a constitutional right for suspects.
Defence lawyer Mark Richards threatened to call for a mistrial over Binger’s conduct.
“I have no idea why you would do something like that,” Judge Schroeder told the prosecutor.