A prosecutor says Kyle Rittenhouse was ‘the only person who killed anyone’ in Kenosha unrest.
The trial began with a prosecutor portraying the teenager as a tourist who inserted himself into fiery unrest in Kenosha and initiated the confrontation that led him to shoot three men.,
KENOSHA, Wis. — Opening statements in the Kyle Rittenhouse homicide trial began on Tuesday, after a jury was selected in an unusually swift process at the Kenosha County Courthouse.
Mr. Rittenhouse, 18, faces six criminal counts including first-degree intentional homicide in the shooting deaths of two men and the wounding of another in the aftermath of protests over a police shooting in Kenosha during the summer of 2020.
During opening statements, Thomas Binger, the lead prosecutor in the case against Mr. Rittenhouse, said that hundreds of people in Kenosha “experienced the night of Aug. 25, experienced the chaos” that unfolded amid the civil unrest.
“And yet,” Mr. Binger said, “the only one who killed anyone was the defendant, Kyle Rittenhouse.”
The jury, a panel of 20 people composed of 11 women and nine men, had on Monday been winnowed from a pool of about 150 prospective jurors who were summoned to the courthouse for questioning.
Judge Bruce Schroeder of Kenosha County Circuit Court, determined to select a jury rapidly, questioned potential jurors closely about their biases and their connections to the expected witnesses in the trial.
When potential jurors said they had read and talked too much about the trial to be impartial jurists, Judge Schroeder questioned whether they could overcome their notions about the case and focus on the evidence. One man began explaining that his support for the Second Amendment was so fervent that he did not believe he could serve as an impartial juror, but was stopped by the judge.
“I want this case to reflect the greatness of Kenosha and the fairness of Kenosha, and I don’t want it to get sidetracked into other issues,” Judge Schroeder said. “I don’t care about your opinions on the Second Amendment.”
It was impossible to find a juror in Kenosha, a former factory town on the shore of Lake Michigan, who was unfamiliar with the contours of what happened: When Judge Schroeder asked if there was anyone in the pool of jurors who had not heard of the Rittenhouse case, not a single person raised a hand.
Demonstrations erupted in Kenosha in August 2020 after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black resident, seven times in the back during an arrest. For several days, protesters of police violence thronged Kenosha by the thousands, and rioters burned buildings and looted businesses, overwhelming police officers and National Guardsmen.
The third night of protests turned deadly when Mr. Rittenhouse, who was then 17, came to Kenosha with a military-style semiautomatic rifle and joined a group of people who said they were there to help keep order on the streets. Within hours, Mr. Rittenhouse had shot and killed two men and wounded a third during a confrontation.
Mr. Rittenhouse’s defense lawyers are expected to make an argument that he shot the men in self-defense after being chased in a parking lot by Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, the first man Mr. Rittenhouse shot and killed; he was then pursued by more members of the crowd, including Anthony Huber, 26. The prosecutors have described a different version of events, arguing in pretrial hearings that Mr. Rittenhouse was an outside agitator from Illinois who was bent on violence, arriving in Kenosha with a rifle he was not legally allowed to possess.
During jury selection, several prospective jurors said they had painful memories of the nights of protest and violence in their region, expressing fear and anxiety over the precautions they had taken as dozens of businesses were damaged and burned. And they worried that the verdict the jury eventually reached would be met with anger.
“I really want to serve on a jury. I really don’t want to serve on this jury,” one woman said. “Either way this goes, you’re going to have half the country upset with you.”
Kyle Rittenhouse’s homicide trial began Tuesday morning with a prosecutor portraying the teenager as a tourist who inserted himself into fiery unrest in Kenosha last year and initiated the confrontation that led him to shoot three men, killing two of them.
“Like moths to a flame, tourists from outside our community were drawn to the chaos,” said Thomas Binger, an assistant district attorney, in his opening statement.
Mr. Binger pointed to Mr. Rittenhouse as he said, “The evidence will show that the only person who killed anyone was the defendant, Kyle Rittenhouse.”
Mr. Rittenhouse, who was 17 and living in Antioch, Ill., at the time of the shootings, faces charges including first-degree intentional homicide.
Mr. Rittenhouse’s lawyers have said they will make a self-defense case for their client, and the case will turn on the question of whether Mr. Rittenhouse reasonably believed he had to fire a weapon to avoid being badly hurt or killed. Again and again, Mr. Binger returned to the fact that the only killings that occurred during several days of unrest in Kenosha were committed by Mr. Rittenhouse.
“When we consider the reasonableness of the defendant’s actions, I ask you to keep that in mind,” he said.
Mr. Binger largely focused on the first shooting that took place, of Joseph Rosenbaum. Mr. Binger said the evidence would show that the fatal shot hit Mr. Rosenbaum in the back after he fell forward following earlier shots to his pelvis and leg.
The prosecutor said infrared video taken from an airplane by the F.B.I. that evening will show that Mr. Rittenhouse chased Mr. Rosenbaum before shooting him. He noted also that Mr. Rittenhouse was carrying a medical kit, but fled after shooting Mr. Rosenbaum as others tried to offer emergency assistance.
Mr. Rittenhouse, dressed in a dark suit with a maroon shirt and tie in court on Tuesday, looked on quietly as the trial got underway, occasionally yawning.
— Dan Hinkel
The lead lawyer representing Kyle Rittenhouse is Mark Richards, 59, a veteran defense lawyer and former prosecutor who has spent his career in Kenosha and Racine, Wis., primarily representing people accused of drug crimes and murder.
He joined Mr. Rittenhouse’s legal team in September 2020, but took charge of the defense in January 2020, replacing John Pierce, a lawyer who had helped Mr. Rittenhouse raise money for his case and counts members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers militia among his clients.
Mr. Richards, a Wisconsin native, has worked as a lawyer for 34 years, first as a prosecutor in the Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office, then in Racine. According to his biography, he has tried more than 100 jury trials.
The notable defendants he has represented include Tyler Huffhines, who was arrested in 2019 and accused of running a black-market vaping operation in Kenosha County with his brother. In 1999, Mr. Richards defended a Racine jail inmate who was accused of choking his cellmate to death. The case against the defendant, Kurtis King, was dismissed after a separate investigation found evidence of misconduct by the prison guards.
He also successfully defended Jaime Rojas, a Racine resident who was accused of murdering his wife. Mr. Rojas insisted that his wife, who suffered from depression, had shot herself; Mr. Richards and an investigator found a bullet embedded in an attic floor that detectives had missed. The evidence forced Racine prosecutors to drop charges against Mr. Rojas.
Another lawyer on the legal team for Mr. Rittenhouse, Corey Chirafisi, is based in Madison, Wis. Mr. Chirafisi met Mr. Richards years ago when they faced off in court: Mr. Chirafisi was prosecuting a man accused of robbing a bank, and Mr. Richards was defending him. Mr. Chirafisi prevailed, and the defendant was found guilty.
Here are the six charges Kyle Rittenhouse faces in the trial, numbered the way they are in the criminal complaint, which does not list them in order of severity (the most severe is Count 3).
Five are felony counts; one is a misdemeanor. For each of the felonies, the complaint lists an aggravating factor that could add to the basic sentence if he is convicted.
First-degree reckless homicide
Under Wisconsin law, this crime is defined as recklessly causing the death of another human being under circumstances that show utter disregard for human life. It is not necessary for prosecutors to prove intent to kill. (Charges that are generally known as murder counts in other states are called homicides under Wisconsin law.)
Mr. Rittenhouse is accused of this crime in connection with the fatal shooting of Joseph D. Rosenbaum. It is a Class B felony carrying a basic sentence of up to 60 years in prison.
Counts 2 and 5
First-degree recklessly endangering safety
The law defines this crime as recklessly endangering another person’s safety under circumstances that show utter disregard for human life.
Mr. Rittenhouse is charged with recklessly endangering two people who, according to the criminal complaint, had shots fired toward them but were not hit: Richard McGinnis and an unknown male seen in video of the episode.
The crime is a class F felony that carries a basic sentence of up to 12 and a half years in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, or both, for each of the two counts.
First-degree intentional homicide
The crime, analogous to first-degree murder in other states, is defined as causing the death of another human being with intent to kill that person or someone else, without the presence of certain mitigating circumstances specified in the law.
Mr. Rittenhouse faces this charge in connection with the fatal shooting of Anthony M. Huber. It is a Class A felony that carries a basic sentence of life in prison.
Attempted first-degree intentional homicide
Attempting to commit first-degree intentional homicide is a Class B felony under Wisconsin law.
Mr. Rittenhouse faces this charge in connection with the shooting of Gaige P. Grosskreutz, who was struck and wounded. It carries a basic sentence of up to 60 years in prison.
Possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18
Though Wisconsin is an “open-carry” state where it is legal for adults to carry firearms openly, state law prohibits minors from doing so. Mr. Rittenhouse was 17 at the time of the shooting.
This crime is a Class A misdemeanor that carries a basic sentence of up to nine months in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
Use of a dangerous weapon
A provision of Wisconsin law extends the maximum sentence for crimes committed while possessing, using or threatening to use a dangerous weapon. The criminal complaint invokes this provision for all five felony counts; in each case, it could add up to five years to the prison sentence for that count, if Mr. Rittenhouse is convicted.
The actions of two men who were killed and another who was wounded by Kyle Rittenhouse during unrest in Kenosha, Wis., last year will be scrutinized as part of Mr. Rittenhouse’s trial because of his claim that he had fired in self-defense. Jurors are expected to see video of the events before the shootings and may hear testimony from the man who survived.
Here is what we know about the people who were killed or wounded:
It is unclear why Joseph Rosenbaum, a 36-year-old from Kenosha, was on the street that night, but The Washington Post has reported that he had been released from a hospital hours earlier after a suicide attempt.
Mr. Rosenbaum, the first person shot, lunged at an armed Mr. Rittenhouse shortly after another man fired a handgun into the air, according to a witness. Mr. Rosenbaum was unarmed and prosecutors plan to argue that Mr. Rittenhouse chased him before the shooting.
Anthony Huber, who lived in Kenosha County, came downtown with his girlfriend to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake, one of Mr. Huber’s casual acquaintances, said Anand Swaminathan, a lawyer for his family.
Mr. Huber, 26, was an avid skateboarder, and video shows him hitting Mr. Rittenhouse, who had fallen to the ground, with his skateboard after Mr. Rosenbaum was shot. Mr. Huber’s lawyers, who are suing the authorities in Kenosha, wrote in a lawsuit that their client was trying to prevent more shootings.
“Anthony Huber is a hero,” the lawsuit reads. “He attempted to disarm Rittenhouse, end the gunfire, stop the bloodshed and protect his fellow citizens.”
Gaige Grosskreutz, of West Allis, Wis., was volunteering as a medic when he approached Mr. Rittenhouse with a handgun drawn as Mr. Huber was being shot.
Mr. Grosskreutz, 27, survived the shooting but lost 90 percent of his right biceps, according to a lawsuit he filed against the local authorities. His lawyer, Kimberley Motley, declined to discuss details of his life or the night’s events.
— Dan Hinkel
Bruce Schroeder, the longest-serving circuit court judge in Wisconsin, is presiding over the homicide trial of Kyle Rittenhouse.
During a pretrial hearing, Judge Schroeder, 75, said he believes that he has seen more homicide trials than any other judge in the state. He graduated from Marquette Law School in 1970, worked as a prosecutor and began serving as a circuit judge in 1983.
His longevity is a subject of frequent conversation in the courtroom. As he said during jury selection on Monday, he has been “in this business for 50 years.”
In Kenosha legal circles, Judge Schroeder has a reputation for strictness in sentencing. He is known for delivering lectures to prospective jurors about their civic duty, which on Monday he likened to serving as an American soldier in Vietnam.
He frequently complains about media bias and the impact that news coverage can have on prospective jurors. As Judge Schroeder quizzed prospective jurors on Monday, he said that he has read news articles on the Rittenhouse case and has asked himself whether he was in the same courtroom that was described in the articles.
He has also acknowledged that some of the topics raised in pretrial hearings are new to him. Until this case, Judge Schroeder said in a hearing, he had never heard of the Proud Boys, a far-right group that offered support to Mr. Rittenhouse after the Kenosha shootings, and was unfamiliar with the “O.K.” hand sign as a gesture that has been co-opted by white supremacists.
“The first time I saw it, or a version of it, was Chef Boyardee on a can of spaghetti,” the judge said.
In one of the judge’s highest-profile cases, the 2008 murder trial of Mark Jensen — who was accused of poisoning his wife, Julie, with antifreeze and then smothering her in their garage — a conviction was overturned when appellate courts and the state Supreme Court ruled that Judge Schroeder had improperly allowed evidence in the trial.
The judge allowed the prosecution to present a letter that Julie Jensen had written and given to a neighbor, as well as voice mail messages she left for a police officer, suggesting that if anything happened to her, her husband would be responsible. Mr. Jensen will face a new trial next year.
He signed up to be a cadet in a program for teenagers who aspire to be police officers. He filled his Facebook page with support for Blue Lives Matter. He sat up front at a rally for President Donald J. Trump, and posted images of it on TikTok. And he chose to mark his 16th birthday by raising funds for a support group for the police called Humanizing the Badge.
Now, Kyle H. Rittenhouse faces trial in the fatal shootings of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and the wounding of Gaige Grosskreutz, in the aftermath of street protests last year in Kenosha, Wis.
Mr. Rittenhouse, now 18, had come to Kenosha from his home in Antioch, Ill., a 30-minute drive away, where he lived with his mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, a nurse’s aide, in an apartment complex.
Before the shootings, Mr. Rittenhouse had two profiles on TikTok. On one, he posted a picture from a rally for Mr. Trump in Iowa. On the other, he posted support for Blue Lives Matter, guns and Mr. Trump. “Bruh, I’m just tryna be famous,” he wrote in his bio summary on the account, which had attracted 26 followers.
One account featured a video of him shooting a semiautomatic rifle and assembling a rifle. That account also linked to several Blue Lives Matter accounts, one with Confederate imagery.
His Facebook profile, deactivated soon after his arrest, overflowed with content lauding Blue Lives Matter.
His mother posted pictures of him while he was enrolled in a cadet program for aspiring firefighters in Antioch. He had served as a cadet in a public safety program run by local police. Mr. Rittenhouse had also worked as a part-time lifeguard at a Y.M.C.A., before he was furloughed. A manager at Culver’s, a Midwest hamburger chain, said he had worked there briefly but it was “not a good fit.”
He faced a similar hurdle with the U.S. Marine Corps, contacting recruiters before being found to be disqualified for service, said Capt. Joseph A. Butterfield, a spokesman, who declined to comment further.
The prosecution of Kyle Rittenhouse will be led by Thomas Binger, a Kenosha County assistant district attorney who has at times clashed with the judge during hearings leading up to the trial.
Mr. Binger is a seven-year veteran of an office run by Michael Graveley, the county’s top prosecutor, and has also worked in the Milwaukee County prosecutor’s office and for private law firms, according to an online resume.
In 2016, he ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for district attorney in neighboring Racine County, telling The Journal Times: “In the last two years as a prosecutor, I have won 13 jury trials. I have convicted murderers, rapists, child molesters, drug dealers, drunk drivers, home-invading burglars and men who abuse women.”
Hearings in the Rittenhouse case have been punctuated by pointed disagreements between Mr. Binger and Judge Bruce Schroeder of Kenosha County Circuit Court. Last week, Judge Schroeder denied prosecution motions aimed at limiting the defense from portraying the men Mr. Rittenhouse shot as destructive and violent.
Mr. Binger argued that defense lawyers should not be able to tell jurors that one of the men who died, Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, had committed destructive acts, saying of Mr. Rosenbaum’s action during the protests in Kenosha: “All we’re talking about is arson. We’re talking about being loud and disorderly.”
The judge cut him off and raised his voice. “I can’t believe some of what you’re saying,” Judge Schroeder said. “All we’re talking about is arson? Come on!”
Through a spokesman, Mr. Binger declined to comment.
When the top prosecutor, Mr. Graveley, was asked why he was not personally handling the high-profile Rittenhouse case, he said that he had been busy with an investigation into the police shooting of Jacob Blake at the time Mr. Rittenhouse was charged.
Mr. Graveley added that he was handling another murder trial that was expected to start during the Rittenhouse trial.
— Dan Hinkel
As Kyle Rittenhouse faces trial for fatally shooting two men and wounding a third in the aftermath of street protests last year in Kenosha, Wis., his fate could hinge on whether jurors accept his lawyers’ central argument — that he had to fire to protect himself.
His lawyers have not disputed the basic facts of the case:
Mr. Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, fired on three men with a military-style semiautomatic rifle. Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, were killed. And Gaige Grosskreutz, who was 26 at the time, was wounded.
In pretrial hearings, Mr. Rittenhouse’s lawyers have argued that he acted within the law when he fired on the men.
In Wisconsin, as in other states, to avoid being killed or badly hurt, a person can lawfully shoot someone who is attacking them. The state law specifically holds that a person can fire if he or she “reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.”
In interviews, lawyers in Wisconsin said defense lawyers must clear only a relatively low bar before a judge puts a self-defense claim before a jury. Once that happens, jurors are asked to determine whether prosecutors met their burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not have the right to fire in self-defense.
Jurors in these cases typically receive detailed instructions from the judge explaining the laws at play, including guidelines for interpreting a crucial term — “reasonably.”
The state template for jury instructions states that a belief can be reasonable despite being mistaken, and a belief is reasonable if it is “what a person of ordinary intelligence and prudence would have believed in the defendant’s position under the circumstances that existed at the time of the alleged offense.”
“The ultimate issue is, what was going on in his head?” said Kirk Obear, a defense lawyer in Milwaukee who is not involved in the case.
Even with the instructions jurors receive, the question of what is reasonable is subject to jurors’ own interpretation.
“This is an exercise in the humanities — not the sciences,” said Tom Grieve, a defense lawyer in suburban Milwaukee.
— Dan Hinkel