Kyle Rittenhouse testified Wednesday that he acted in self-defense when he fatally shot a man who had thrown a plastic bag at him and chased him last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in what is likely to be the pivotal testimony of his homicide trial.
“I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself,” he testified.
But in cross-examination, Rittenhouse said that he knew the man, Joseph Rosenbaum, was unarmed when he ran at the teenager. Rittenhouse said he pointed his rifle at Rosenbaum in an attempt to deter him, adding that he knew pointing a rifle at someone is dangerous.
“He was chasing me, I was alone, he threatened to kill me earlier that night. I didn’t want to have to shoot him,” Rittenhouse testified. “I pointed it at him because he kept running at me and I didn’t want him to chase me.”
He said he feared Rosenbaum, who did not touch his body at all that night, would take his gun and kill people.
“If I would have let Mr. Rosenbaum take my firearm from me, he would have used it and killed me with it and probably killed more people if I would have let him get my gun,” Rittenhouse testified.
The riveting, emotional and high-stakes testimony is crucial to both the prosecution’s and the defense’s arguments about his actions on the night of August 25, 2020, when Rittenhouse shot at four people, killing two of them and wounding one. The prosecution has sought to show Rittenhouse illegally possessed the gun and acted criminally and recklessly, while the defense has said he acted in self-defense.
Rittenhouse stepped down from the stand after testifying for most of Wednesday. He was the seventh defense witness, and attorneys said they planned to call several more witnesses to start Thursday’s testimony.
Rittenhouse broke down in tears at one point in his testimony, leading to a short break. The prosecution’s cross-examination has also led to heated exchanges among the attorneys and judge in the case. Twice, Judge Bruce Schroeder asked the jury to leave the room and then sharply admonished prosecutor Thomas Binger for his line of questioning.
Rittenhouse’s defense attorneys asked the judge to issue a mistrial with prejudice for the incidents. The judge said he would take the motion under advisement.
The 18-year-old’s testimony came a day after the prosecution rested its case after calling 22 witnesses over six days. The prosecution’s case was highlighted by testimony from an armed paramedic who was shot by Rittenhouse and a journalist who said the gunfire put him in danger.
Rittenhouse pleaded not guilty to six charges, including first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide and first-degree attempted intentional homicide. Judge Schroeder dismissed a curfew violation charge Tuesday, saying prosecutors had failed to present evidence to support it.
The charges stem from the chaotic unrest in the wake of the Kenosha police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man. The events of that night, almost all captured on video, are hardly in dispute. The question before the jury is whether Rittenhouse’s actions were reasonable.
Rittenhouse lays out the night of the shootings
Rittenhouse began his testimony Wednesday by telling jurors he is now studying nursing at Arizona State University. He testified that he had worked as a lifeguard in Kenosha, was part of a police explorer program and knows CPR and basic life support.