Kyle Rittenhouse was badly shaken after shooting three men during street unrest in Kenosha, at one point telling a person who had joined him in an effort to protect businesses from damaging protesters that “my life might be over,” according to testimony at his murder trial.
“He repeats, ‘I just shot someone’ over and over, and I believe at some point he said he had to shoot someone,” testified Nicholas Smith, who was alongside Rittenhouse at a car dealership in August 2020 and was the first witness called by his defense team as they began their case Tuesday.
Another witness in Rittenhouse’s group, JoAnn Fiedler, described him as pale, shaking, sweating and stammering after the shootings.
“My god, my life might be over,” Fiedler quoted Rittenhouse as saying. She said he didn’t give any details about what happened but told her he “had to do it.”
Rittenhouse, now 18, killed two men and wounded a third during a night of turbulent demonstrations against racial injustice in Kenosha in the summer of 2020.
The former police youth cadet from Antioch, Illinois, had gone to Kenosha with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle and a medical kit in what he said was an effort to protect property from the damaging protests that broke out over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white Kenosha police officer.
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While Rittenhouse is white, as were those he shot, the case has stirred debate over vigilantism, the right to bear arms and the unrest that erupted around the U.S. that summer over the killing of George Floyd and other police violence against Black people.
With testimony set to resume Wednesday, one question was whether Rittenhouse would testify on his own behalf. Several legal experts said the chance of that appeared to diminish after several witnesses called by the prosecution gave evidence that appeared to reinforce his self-defense claim.
The prosecution rested Tuesday after introducing drone video that offered jurors a new view of Rittenhouse’s fatal shooting of Joseph Rosenbaum — the event that sent Rittenhouse hurrying away from the scene, quickly pursued by other protesters who sought to stop him.
In that burst of action, Rittenhouse killed Anthony Huber, a 26-year-old protester seen on video clubbing Rittenhouse with a skateboard. Rittenhouse then wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, a 27-year-old protester and volunteer medic who was shot after pointing his own gun at Rittenhouse.
The jury watched as the drone video was zoomed-in and slowed down to show Rosenbaum following Rittenhouse, and then Rittenhouse wheeling around and shooting Rosenbaum at close range. A pathologist testified that Rosenbaum had soot injuries that could indicate he had his hand over the barrel of Rittenhouse’s rifle.
But it was unclear from video footage whether Rosenbaum was grabbing for Rittenhouse’s gun or trying to swat it away, said the witness, Dr. Doug Kelley of the Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office.
Fiedler, the defense witness, was with Rittenhouse outside the car dealership just before the first shooting, and said they were being shouted at and taunted by protesters, including Rosenbaum. But Fiedler, who said she carried a pistol, testified she never saw Rittenhouse threaten or point his gun at anyone.
“The whole night was quite shocking, but we didn’t really do anything,” Fiedler said of the yelling directed at those guarding the store. “We just kind of stood there. You have to ignore that.”
Fiedler said she later opened the door of the dealership for Rittenhouse after the shootings, and he appeared to be “totally in shock” and fell into her, telling her he had shot someone.
Last week, witnesses testified that Rosenbaum, 36, was “hyperaggressive” and “acting belligerently” that night and threatened to kill Rittenhouse at one point. One witness said Rosenbaum was gunned down after chasing Rittenhouse and lunging for his rifle.
Wisconsin’s self-defense law allows someone to use deadly force only if “necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.” The jury must decide whether Rittenhouse believed he was in such peril and whether that belief was reasonable under the circumstances.
On Tuesday, Rittenhouse turned his head and averted his eyes from a defense-table monitor as prosecutors displayed medical examiner photographs of Huber’s body laid out on a gurney, a gunshot wound to his chest clearly visible. Rittenhouse breathed deeply as autopsy photos of Rosenbaum showing his injuries were displayed for the jury.
A few jurors also seemed to find it difficult to look for long at the images, with one glancing up at a monitor over her shoulder, then looking straight ahead.