Washington (AFP) - Kyle Rittenhouse, the American teen who shot three people during anti-police protests last year, broke down in tears Wednesday while testifying in his murder trial.
Rittenhouse insisted he shot three men, two fatally, in self-defense as protestors set small fires and damaged businesses in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 25, 2020.
But he struggled in front of a jury to explain why he carried an AR-15-style assault rifle to the protests, as a prosecutor sought to break down his self-defense case.
"I didn't do anything wrong; I defended myself," Rittenhouse testified.
"I did not intend to kill them. I intended to stop the people who were attacking me," he told the court.
- Felt threatened -
Under questioning from his own attorney Mark Richards, Rittenhouse -- who was 17 at the time of the shootings -- confidently described his presence at the protests as helping to protect an auto business, to put out fires and to deliver first aid to anyone who was injured.
But when Richards asked him to describe the runup to the first shooting of Joseph Rosenbaum, in his first open sign of emotion in the 10-day-old trial, Rittenhouse faltered and broke down in tears, forcing the court into a short break.
He insisted that Rosenbaum threatened to kill him.
And then, several minutes later when he shot two other men who had sought to stop him from running away, one of them holding a gun as he lay on the ground, Rittenhouse also argued that he was protecting himself.
Seeking to undermine that argument, Kenosha County prosecutor Thomas Binger sought to prove that Rittenhouse lacked justification for shooting the three men and had some intention to use his gun by bringing it to the protests.
"Joseph Rosenbaum never touched you in any way during that incident," Binger said to him.
Rittenhouse said he believed that Rosenbaum wanted to take the gun and use it on him.
"You understand how dangerous it is to point a gun at someone, don't you?" Binger asked him.
"I never wanted to shoot Mr Rosenbaum," Rittenhouse said. "I didn't want to have to shoot him... I pointed it at him because he kept running after me."
When Binger asked why he brought the gun if he only intended to offer first aid at the protests, Rittenhouse replied: "I brought the gun for my protection. But... I didn't think I would have to use the gun."
- Motion for mistrial -
Rittenhouse's testimony came toward the end of the trial in which videos and witnesses, including some called by the prosecution, appeared to support his claim of self-defense.
The case has drawn national attention because it arose from the nationwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations last year.
The protests and rioting in Kenosha erupted when a white policeman shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, several times in his car during an arrest, leaving him paralyzed.
In right-wing and pro-gun circles, including former president Donald Trump and his followers, Rittenhouse is a painted as a hero figure.
Rittenhouse is charged with five felony counts, including first-degree homicide and attempted homicide, as well as a misdemeanor -- illegal possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18.
During their arguments, Richards motioned for a mistrial after Binger introduced issues that Judge Bruce Schroeder said had been forbidden and that he said impinged on Rittenhouse's constitutional rights.
Schroeder furiously blasted Binger, issuing several warnings, and said he would consider the mistrial proposal, which was requested "with prejudice" -- meaning the case could not be retried.