Kyle Rittenhouse took the stand to testify at his murder trial on Wednesday, crying so hard at one point that the judge called a break to allow the defendant to collect himself.
Before breaking down in tears, Rittenhouse had said he was not looking for trouble when he went armed with a military-style assault rifle to downtown Kenosha, Wis., on Aug. 25, 2020, before he fatally shot two people and wounded another during a chaotic third night of protests following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Rittenhouse, who was 17 years old at the time, has said he intended to provide first aid and protect a local business from rioters.
Rittenhouse, now 18, has pleaded not guilty to five felony counts for the shootings, including first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree reckless homicide, as well as a misdemeanor charge for possession of a dangerous weapon under the age of 18. He faces life in prison if convicted of the most serious charges.
When he returned to the witness stand, Rittenhouse proceeded to recount his version of the events that led him to fire his gun on four people that night, insisting that he acted in self-defense against multiple attackers.
He said he was walking with a fire extinguisher toward the parking lot of a local business to put out a fire when he heard someone scream, "Burn in hell!"
"I replied with 'Friendly, friendly, friendly!' to let them know I'm just here to help," he said.
Shortly after that, Rittenhouse said, Joseph Rosenbaum, a protester who Rittenhouse said had verbally threatened him earlier in the evening, came running toward him, while another protester, Joshua Zaminsky, approached with a gun and told Rosenbaum, "Get him — kill him!"
Rittenhouse's face became red as he choked back tears, explaining that he tried to run but was "cornered" by the two men. He said that Rosenbaum, who was unarmed, threw what he now knows was a plastic hospital bag toward him, but at the time, Rittenhouse said he thought it looked like a metal chain he'd seen Rosenbaum carrying around earlier in the night. Rittenhouse said he pointed his gun at Rosenbaum while continuing to run but that the protester was not deterred and lunged at him with arms outstretched, grabbing the barrel of his gun as someone else fired a shot “directly behind me.”
He then shot Rosenbaum four times. He said he initially attempted to help him but was "in shock" and, with someone else tending to Rosenbaum, decided that "the safest option" was to turn himself in to the police.
"I didn't do anything wrong. I defended myself," he said.
Rittenhouse said that as he ran toward the police, "there was a crowd — not a crowd, a mob — chasing me." The prosecution has argued that several people ran after him after he shot Rosenbaum because they believed he was an active shooter and were trying to prevent further bloodshed.
One of those people was Anthony Huber, who Rittenhouse said hit him in the neck with a skateboard. Rittenhouse said he became lightheaded and stumbled to the ground. While he was on the ground, another man who has never been identified jumped toward Rittenhouse and began to kick him in the face.
"As his boot is making contact with my face, I fired two shots at him," Rittenhouse said. "He would have stomped my face in if I didn't fire."
The shots missed the unidentified man, but at the same time, Rittenhouse said, Huber ran up, hit him in the neck again with his skateboard and grabbed his gun.
"I can feel it pulling away from me; I can feel the straps coming off my body," Rittenhouse said. "I fire one shot," hitting Huber in the chest, killing him.
Rittenhouse said he was then approached by a man named Gaige Grosskreutz, who he remembers stood so close to him that "our feet were touching." Initially, Rittenhouse said, Grosskreutz had his arms in the air, a pistol in one hand, but then he pointed the pistol at Rittenhouse, who was still on the ground.
"That's when I shoot him," he said. Asked why he fired only one shot at Grosskreutz, severely injuring his bicep, he said, "He's no longer a threat to me."
Rittenhouse said that when he finally reached a police officer and told the officer what happened, he was told to "go home." Eventually, he returned home to Antioch, Ill., and his mother drove him to the Antioch Police Department to turn himself in that night.
Throughout the trial, Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger has sought to dismantle Rittenhouse's claims to self-defense by presenting the teenager as an outsider who "contributed to the chaos" that unfolded in Kenosha that night, falsely presenting himself as an EMT and carrying an illegally possessed firearm that he was eager to shoot.
"Everybody you shot at that night you intended to kill, correct?" Binger asked as he began his cross-examination Wednesday.
Rittenhouse repeatedly refuted this characterization, saying, "I didn't intend to kill them; I intended to stop them from attacking me."
At another point in the cross-examination, Rittenhouse acknowledged that one of the main reasons he chose to have a friend buy an AR-15 for him as opposed to another type of gun was that "I thought it looked cool." But he rebuffed Binger's attempt to link his interest in the rifle, and the way he went about using it, to his experience playing first-person-shooter video games.
"It's just a video game," said Rittenhouse. "It's not real life."