Kyle Rittenhouse trial begins with starkly different portraits of teenager who killed 2 protesters in Kenosha

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Mark Hertzberg/POOL/Zuma Press/TNS

KENOSHA, Wis. — Kyle Rittenhouse’s murder trial began Tuesday with dueling portraits of a shooter whose case has come to embody the country’s deep political divide.

In contradicting opening statements, the prosecution painted Rittenhouse as a “chaos tourist” who arrived in Kenosha amid protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake to impose his own sense of justice. The defense, in response, portrayed him as a selfless, if naive, teenager who was forced to stop people from taking his gun and using it against him.

“We have two very different outlooks on the events,” defense attorney Mark Richards said.

In August 2020, Rittenhouse — a 17-year-old from north suburban Antioch, Illinois — crossed state lines and patrolled downtown Kenosha, amid turmoil surrounding the shooting of Blake, a Black man, by a white officer. Carrying an AR-15-style rifle that police say a friend illegally purchased for him, Rittenhouse fatally shot two people and wounded a third.

The Blake shooting and subsequent unrest continues to hang heavily over this southeast Wisconsin town, where Blake’s family now leads a social justice movement and the downtown still shows signs of the police shooting’s chaotic aftermath. The spots where Rittenhouse fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz can be seen clearly from the courtroom windows.

As part of Rittenhouse’s self-defense strategy, his attorney vilified the men Rittenhouse shot and blamed them for the outcomes. Richards avoided any opportunity to humanize the men, skipping even the blanket acknowledgment most defense attorneys make toward the victims’ families in self-defense cases.

Instead, they pointed the finger directly at Rosenbaum, showing pictures of him participating in a dumpster fire, confronting armed people and waving a chain in the hours before the shooting. Without offering any evidence, Richards said that Rosenbaum chased Rittenhouse to take his gun.

“Mr. Rosenbaum could have stopped at any time,” Richards said. “He wants to steal my client’s firearm and carry out the threat he made earlier.”

Prosecutors, however, told jurors the FBI has images showing Rittenhouse was the one who initially followed Rosenbaum. The recording was captured by an infrared camera attached to an FBI fixed wing aircraft that was monitoring the city during the chaos, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger said.

Binger also told jurors that Rosenbaum died from a shot to the back. Rittenhouse, who had boasted earlier in the evening that he was a “medic” and was carrying a first aid kit, did not try to help Rosenbaum after shooting him.

“He ran away,” Binger said.

As Rittenhouse fled the scene, he shot both Huber and Grosskreutz when they tried to stop him. Binger described the men as selfless, while the defense said they attacked Rittenhouse “like an animal.”

Rittehouse, now 18, yawned frequently during both opening statements and only occasionally glanced at videos replaying events of that night. His mother, Wendy, could be seen wiping her eyes as she watched from the half-filled gallery.

During the selection process, many jurors discussed the anger and fear they felt during the protests. Some acknowledged plans to protect themselves with their own guns if needed during the demonstrations, while others recalled driving through the shattered downtown in the days following and crying.

Binger acknowledged those emotions, calling the vandalism and looting “two of the roughest nights our community has ever seen.” While validating the jurors’ memories, however, Binger repeatedly urged them to remember that Rittenhouse was the one person to kill someone during the chaos.

“We need to keep in mind the context of that night,” Binger said. “We need to keep in mind the fact there were hundreds of people on the street that night experiencing the same chaos, the same loud noises, the same gunfire and the same arson, the same tear gas, the same hostile confrontations with people who believed the opposite of them. And yet out of these hundreds of people only one person killed anyone that night, only one person shot anyone that night. When we consider the reasonableness of the defendant’s actions, I ask you to keep that in mind.”

Testimony begins Tuesday afternoon, with Dominick Black expected to take the witness stand.

Black, who dated Rittenhouse’s sister, bought the rifle Rittenhouse used that night because the 17-year-old was too young to buy one for himself. He faces criminal charges for purchasing the gun in a separate case.