By Scott Bauer, Michael Tarm and Amy Forliti, AP
Kyle Rittenhouse provoked the bloodshed on the streets of Kenosha by bringing a semi-automatic rifle and menacing others, and when the shooting stopped, he walked away like a “hero in a Western,” a prosecutor said in closing arguments Monday at Rittenhouse’s murder trial.
“You lose the right to self-defense when you’re the one who brought the gun, when you are the one creating the danger, when you’re the one provoking other people,” Thomas Binger told the jury.
Binger repeatedly showed the jury a segment of drone video that he said depicted Rittenhouse pointing the AR-style rifle at protesters in the streets.
“This is the provocation. This is what starts this incident,” the prosecutor declared.
Rittenhouse, now 18, killed two men and wounded a third during a tumultuous night of protests against racial injustice in the summer of 2020, in a case that has stirred bitter debate in the U.S. over guns, vigilantism and law and order.
Rittenhouse said he feared for his life and acted in self-defense. Prosecutors sought to portray him as the aggressor who bears responsibility for the bloodshed.
Binger zeroed in on the killing of 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum, who was the first man gunned down that night and whose shooting set in motion the bloodshed that followed. The prosecutor repeatedly called it “murder,” saying it was unjustified.
The prosecutor reminded jurors that Rittenhouse testified he knew Rosenbaum was unarmed. Binger also said there is no video to support the defense claim that Rosenbaum threatened to kill Rittenhouse.
Binger disputed the notion that Rosenbaum was trying to grab Rittenhouse’s rifle. “Mr. Rosenbaum is not even within arm’s reach when the first shot occurs,” Binger said. He rejected the idea that Rittenhouse had no choice but to shoot, saying he could have run away.
And Binger argued that once Rosenbaum was wounded, he was not even capable of taking away the gun, which was strapped to Rittenhouse’s body, since he was falling to the ground with a fractured pelvis. Rittenhouse kept firing, delivering what the prosecutor called the “kill shot” to Rosenbaum’s back.
“I think we can also agree that we shouldn’t have 17-year-olds running around our streets with AR-15s, because this is exactly what happens,” Binger said.
The young man from Antioch, Illinois, faces a mandatory life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge against him, first-degree intentional homicide.
After killing Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse shot and killed Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 28. But he testified that Rosenbaum had chased him down and made a grab for his weapon, that Huber hit him with a skateboard, and that Grosskreutz came at him with a gun of his own — an account largely corroborated by a wealth of video and some of the prosecution’s own witnesses.
Binger said that Rittenhouse also provoked the bloodshed that followed Rosenbaum’s shooting: Huber, Grosskreutz and others in the crowd were trying to stop what they believed was an active shooter, exercising their own right to self-defense.
When it was all over, Rittenhouse walked away like a “hero in a Western — without a care in the world for anything he’s just done,” Binger said, adding: “This is someone who has no remorse, no regard for life, only cares about himself.”
When the prosecutor displayed a photograph of Rosenbaum’s bloodied body lying on a gurney during his autopsy and another of Rosenbaum’s mangled hand, some jurors appeared to avert their eyes from the TV monitors.
As he spoke, Binger walked up to the jury box and lifted the actual rifle used in the shootings as if he were firing, the prosecutor looking down its barrel and pointing it at courtroom wall.
Rittenhouse was 17 when he traveled the few miles from his home to Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020, as the city was in the throes of violent protests that erupted after a white police officer shot and wounded Jacob Blake, a Black man. Rittenhouse said he went there to protect property.
Supporters have hailed him as a hero who took a stand against lawlessness; foes have branded him a vigilante.
Binger began his closing arguments by telling the jury that Rittenhouse had no connection to the business he said he was going to protect that night, he ran around with an assault-style rifle, and he lied about being an emergency medical technician.
“Does that suggest to you that he genuinely is there to help?” Binger asked.
Each side was given 2 1/2 hours to make its case to the jury before deliberations were to begin. The defense was expected to deliver its closing argument in the afternoon.
Earlier Monday, Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed a count of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18, a misdemeanor that had appeared to be among the likeliest of the charges to net a conviction for prosecutors.
The underage weapon charge was punishable by up to nine months in jail.
But the defense argued that Wisconsin law has an exception related to the length of a weapon’s barrel. After prosecutors conceded Monday that Rittenhouse’s rifle was not short-barreled, the judge threw out the charge.
Public interest in closing arguments was evident in the morning, when more people than usual stood in a line outside Courtroom 209 to get a seat.
Rittenhouse’s mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, listened intently in court during the jury instructions.
Rittenhouse is white, as are the three men he shot. The case has polarized Americans, raising questions about racial justice, vigilantism, the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and white privilege.
Perhaps in recognition of weaknesses in their case, prosecutors asked the judge to let the jury consider several lesser charges if they acquit him on the original counts. Schroeder agreed to do so Monday as he launched into 36 pages of instructions to the jury, explaining the charges and the laws of self-defense.
In the case of Huber’s slaying, the judge said that if jurors find Rittenhouse is not guilty of first-degree intentional homicide, then they can weigh whether he is guilty of second-degree intentional homicide. If he is not guilty of that count, then they can decide whether he is guilty of first-degree reckless homicide
In his instructions, the judge said that to decide that Rittenhouse acted lawfully in self-defense, the jury must find that he believed there was an unlawful threat to him and that the amount of force he used was reasonable and necessary.
After closing arguments, names were to be drawn to determine which 12 of the 18 jurors who heard testimony would deliberate, with the rest dismissed as alternates.
With a verdict near, Gov. Tony Evers said that 500 National Guard members would be prepared for duty in Kenosha if local law enforcement requested them.