‘You cannot claim self-defence against a danger you create’
Prosecutors have instructed jurors to “look for the truth” in the double homicide trial of Kyle Rittenhouse as they present closing arguments following two weeks of testimony and debate in the televised courtroom.
Mr Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two men and injured another in the aftermath of protests against police violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year, “revoked” his right to self-defence when he raised his AR-15-style rifle in a crowd, prosecutors have argued.
“If you’re the one who is threatening others, you lose the right to claim self-defence,” said Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger. “You cannot claim self-defence against a danger you create.”
Prosecutors have argued that Mr Rittenhouse “provoked” the fatal shootings on 25 August 2020 by pointing his rifle.
As he argued against Mr Rittenhouse’s claims of self-defence, Mr Binger raised the AR-15-style rifle that Mr Rittenhouse used to kill two men and injure another, demonstrating how Mr Rittenhouse placed a fire extinguisher on the ground and raised his weapon, as video evidence has shown, before a group of people pursued him in a parking lot.
Joseph Rosenbaum, who was unarmed, chased after Mr Rittenhouse, who moved between two cars before turning around and firing four shots.
A first shot “incapacitated” Mr Rosenbaum, a third shot hit his hand, another grazed his scalp, and a “kill shot” entered his back, Mr Binger said. The jury also was shown video of a group of people rushing to help Mr Rosenbaum as Mr Rittenhouse is seen fleeing the scene.
Mr Binger revived the central question about Mr Rittenhouse’s intentions that night, echoing his argument from the beginning of the trial.
“Was he genuinely interested in helping people?” he asked, pointing to Mr Rittenhouse falsely claiming that night that he was an emergency medical worker. “He wasn’t there for the same reason as protesters, so why was he there that night?”
Mr Rittenhouse, now 18, was 17 years old when he traveled to Wisconsin from his home in nearby Illinois in the middle of protests in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake. He armed himself with a rifle that would be used to kill two men – Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber – and injure another, Gaige Grosskreutz, on the third night of protests on 25 August 2020.
Mr Binger appeared to acknowledge the polarised political debate surrounding the trial but urged jurors to recall raising their hands to agree that “life is more important than property,” a question that was raised at the beginning of the trial.
“I think we can also agree that we shouldn’t have 17 year olds running around our streets with AR-15s,” he said.
He asked jurors to “consider whether it’s heroic or honorable to lie about being an EMT” and to contrast Mr Rittenhouse’s actions that night to Mr Huber, “who knew Jacob Blake, who carried skateboard everywhere, and rushed toward danger to save peoples’ lives.”
Mr Huber was the second man killed by Mr Rittenhouse; Mr Grosskreutz testified last week that he believed Mr Rittenhouse was an “active shooter” as a group of people chased after him after killing Mr Rosenbaum.
“And yet in this entire sequence of events, from the shooting of Jacob Blake … all the way after that, everything this community went through, the only person who shot and killed anyone was the defendant,” Mr Binger said.
Mr Rittenhouse faces five felonies, including first-degree reckless homicide, first-degree intentional homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and two counts of recklessly endangering safety in the first degree.
On Monday, Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed a misdemeanor charge for possession of a weapon under age 18 on a legal technicality.
As Mr Rittenhouse ran away from the parking lot after shooting Mr Rosenbaum, he did not fire warning shots or raise his hands to surrender, Mr Binger said.
“Everything he does is indicative of someone who is still a threat,” he said. “From a crowd’s perspective, how are they supposed to know any different?”
Mr Binger walked through the seconds-long video footage of Mr Huber and others attempting to “stop an active shooter” in an apparent attempt to disarm him, including Mr Huber swinging his skateboard, before Mr Rittenhouse fired his rifle into Mr Huber’s chest, and then fired at Mr Grosskreutz, who was armed with a pistol.
“Everyone has a right to defend themselves also, not just the defendant,” Mr Binger said.