By Nathan Layne
KENOSHA, Wis. (Reuters) – The prosecution on Tuesday sought to portray a U.S. teenager accused of fatally shooting two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year as an aggressor who was an outlier in resorting to deadly force, aiming to undercut his claim of self-defense.
Kyle Rittenhouse, then 17, shot dead two protesters and wounded a third man with a semi-automatic rifle amid protests over the police shooting of a Black man.
In his opening statement, Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger acknowledged that chaos had engulfed Kenosha, as agitators came like “moths to a flame” to engage in arson, rioting and looting.
Binger repeated seven times that Rittenhouse was the only person to have killed anyone on Aug. 25, 2020, the night he shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, now 27, in the arm.
“The evidence will show that the only person who killed anyone was the defendant, Kyle Rittenhouse,” Binger said.
Binger said the evidence would show that the bullet that killed Rosenbaum – who was chasing the teenager and threw a plastic bag at him but was unarmed – was to his back. Binger said Rittenhouse fled the scene without providing first aid.
Rittenhouse, now 18, is charged with reckless and intentional homicides in the killing of Rosenbaum and Huber and the wounding of Grosskreutz with an AR-15-style rifle. He has pleaded not guilty and says he acted in self-defense.
The unrest had been sparked by a white police officer’s shooting and wounding of Jacob Blake, just three months after the police murder of George Floyd, another Black man, in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests over racism and police brutality.
The 20-person jury, composed of 11 women and nine men, will now listen to opening statements from the defense.
Rittenhouse, sitting next to his lawyers, was wearing a dark gray suit and a maroon shirt and tie. The teen appeared to be listening attentively, though he yawned several times.
Rittenhouse has emerged as a hero to some conservatives who believe in unfettered gun rights and see the shootings as justified during the chaos that had engulfed Kenosha, while many on the political left have labeled him a vigilante killer.
Some legal experts https://www.reuters.com/world/us/prosecutors-face-tough-test-trial-us-teenage-protest-shooter-rittenhouse-2021-10-28 have said the prosecution faces a tough task in convincing a jury that Rittenhouse did not fear for his life, given video evidence showing all three men were advancing toward him, with Rosenbaum and Huber appearing to reach for his weapon and Grosskreutz armed with a pistol, when he fired.
Under Wisconsin law, people can only use deadly force if they “reasonably” believe it necessary to prevent someone from killing or causing great bodily harm to them.
The jury was selected on Monday after lawyers and Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder vetted candidates for biases, with many questions focused on their views on the protests and their experiences with guns.
The trial is poised to be the biggest U.S. court test of a civilian’s right to self-defense since George Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013 in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager, in Florida.
Rittenhouse’s lawyers will likely try to portray the men he shot as bad actors involved in lawless behavior, giving him reason to fear for his safety. They may highlight the expected testimony of a reporter named Richard McGinnis, who told police that Rosenbaum tried to grab the barrel of Rittenhouse’s rifle before the teenager shot him.
They are also expected to stress audio and video evidence of protesters yelling things like “Get his ass!” as Rittenhouse stumbled and fell to the ground before shooting Huber, who swung a skateboard at him, and Grosskreutz, who was holding a pistol.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Ross Colvin, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)