Two and a half seconds before Kyle Rittenhouse began shooting in the streets of Kenosha, someone in the crowd fired a shot into the air, a detective testified at Rittenhouse’s murder trial Thursday.
The defense has said that that shot made Rittenhouse think he was under attack.
Rittenhouse, 18, is charged with shooting three men, two of them fatally, starting with Joseph Rosenbaum, in the summer of 2020. The aspiring police officer, then 17, had gone to Kenosha with an assault-style rifle and a medical kit in what he said was an effort to safeguard property from violent protests that broke out over the police shooting of a Black man.
Prosecutors have portrayed Rittenhouse as the instigator of the bloodshed, while his lawyer has argued that he acted in self-defense after Rosenbaum tried to grab his gun and others in the crowd kicked him in the face and hit him in the head with a skateboard.
Video took center stage again Thursday, when Kenosha Detective Martin Howard testified that footage shows that a protester, Joshua Ziminski, had fired the first shot into the air. Howard said he used a stopwatch and timed five or six videos to determine that 2.5 seconds later, Rittenhouse began firing at Rosenbaum.
A wealth of video has been played in court that captured the tumultuous demonstration and the series of shootings.
On Wednesday, Howard testified that Rittenhouse shouted “Friendly! Friendly! Friendly!” as he was being chased by Rosenbaum. Howard also agreed with defense attorney Mark Richards that Rosenbaum appeared to be gaining ground on Rittenhouse.
Richards also described how Rosenbaum had come out from behind a car to meet Rittenhouse before the shooting, saying to the detective: “Correct me if I’m wrong, but this looks like the classic ambush.”
After prosecutors objected, Richards said: “Mr. Rosenbaum is in hiding as my client arrives, correct?”
“It appears so, yes,” Howard responded.
Before testimony resumed Thursday, the judge dismissed a juror who had made a joke to a court security officer about the police shooting of Jacob Blake — the Black man whose wounding triggered the Kenosha protests. The juror, a retired man, declined to repeat the joke for the judge.
“It is clear that the appearance of bias is present and it would seriously undermine the outcome of the case,” Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder said.
Prosecutors on Thursday also replayed widely seen video of an interview that the conservative website The Daily Caller did with Rittenhouse before the shooting. It began with Rittenhouse in front of a boarded-up building, where he said he and other men were there “to protect this business, and part of my job is there’s somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way.” He also said he was there to provide medical aid.
Richie McGinniss, who made the video for The Daily Caller, testified that he went to talk to four Black people in the crowd who seemed angry. He said one of them had two rocks or brick-like stones in his hands, and another had a rock and a strap.
McGinniss said he asked them why they were mad, and they said that they were jumping on vehicles and that Rittenhouse came up to them with his gun. One member of the group accused Rittenhouse of waving his gun around as if he were in a movie, the witness said.
Rittenhouse, who is white, could get life in prison if convicted in the politically and racially polarizing case that has stirred furious debate over self-defense, vigilantism, the right to bear arms and the racial unrest that erupted around the U.S. after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other cases like it.
On Wednesday, prosecutor Thomas Binger drove home the point that Rosenbaum was apparently unarmed, asking Howard if any of the videos shown in court indicated Rosenbaum had a weapon of any kind. Howard replied no, and said he could only see Rosenbaum carrying a plastic bag.
“No gun?” Binger asked.
“I can only see a plastic bag he’s carrying,” Howard said.
“So no gun? Binger asked.
“No,” replied Howard, who repeated the answer over and over when Binger also asked him whether Rosenbaum carried a knife, bat or club.
But Richards, on cross-examination, asked Howard what can happen if a weapon is taken from someone. “It can be used against them as a deadly and dangerous weapon, correct?” the defense attorney asked.
“Correct,” Howard replied.
Moments after shooting Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse shot and killed Anthony Huber, 26, a protester from Silver Lake, Wisconsin, who was seen on bystander video hitting Rittenhouse with a skateboard.
Rittenhouse then wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, a protester from West Allis, Wisconsin, who had a gun in his hand as he stepped toward Rittenhouse.
Kyle Rittenhouse is a hero, and it’s disgusting that he’s being put through this ordeal, instead of being given a medal as he deserves. All three people he shot deserved it. And Jacob Blake, for whose sake the animals were rioting, deserved to be killed too; it’s a great pity that he survived.