Why Kyle Rittenhouse’s murder trial got fiery after he took the stand

It was a fiery day in the courtroom in Kenosha, Wisconsin, at Kyle Rittenhouse's trial for the murder of two men and the shooting of a third. Rittenhouse took the stand in his own defense, breaking down as he described the lead up to the fatal shooting of Jacob Rosenbaum, who was unarmed. The defense moved for a mistrial over some of the prosecution's cross-examination. John Yang reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It was a fiery and emotional day in the courtroom in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Kyle Rittenhouse is on trial for the murder of two men and the shooting of a third.

    John Yang has the latest.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, a fiery day indeed.

    At one point, the defense moved for a mistrial over some of the prosecution's cross-examination. That followed Rittenhouse taking the stand in his own defense, breaking down as he described the moments before the fatal shooting of Jacob (sic) Rosenbaum, who was unarmed.

  • Kyle Rittenhouse, Defendant:

    I was cornered from in front of me with Mr. Ziminski.

    And there were — there was people right there.

  • John Yang:

    Rittenhouse says he was at the protests to offer first aid.

    During cross-examination, the prosecutor pressed him why he was carrying a rifle to do that.

  • Kyle Rittenhouse:

    I needed the gun because, if I had to protect myself because somebody attacked me…

  • Thomas Binger, Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney:

    Why would you think anybody would do that?

  • Kyle Rittenhouse:

    I don't know.

  • Thomas Binger:

    But you clearly planned on it. You were prepared for it. You thought it was going to happen.

  • Kyle Rittenhouse:

    No, I didn't.

  • John Yang:

    The defense objected to some of the prosecutor's questions, saying he was trying to get the jury to hear evidence the judge had ruled inadmissible.

    With the jury out of the courtroom, the judge criticized the prosecutor.

  • Thomas Binger:

    My good-faith feeling this morning, after watching that testimony was, you had left the door open a little bit. Now we had something new. And I was going to probe it.

  • Judge Bruce Schroeder, Kenosha County Circuit Court:

    I don't believe you.

    There better not be another incident. I will take the motion under advisement.

  • John Yang:

    The judge said he would rule later on the motion for a mistrial.

    Corri Hess of Wisconsin Public Radio has been following this case closely.

    Corri, thanks for joining us.

    Defendants don't have to take the stand in their own defense and usually don't. What was it that the defense seemed to be trying to do with his testimony today?

  • Corri Hess, Wisconsin Public Radio:

    I think it was a surprise that Kyle Rittenhouse took the stand, but I believe that they put him up there because just having the jury see him and hear him talk, they got to see how young he is.

    I mean, just his voice, he sounds like a teenager. He looks like a teenager. Of course, he's 18 now. But they also got to really let him tell his side of the story, which he has not spoken about this before.

    And they got to paint him as this good samaritan. They spent much of the beginning of his testimony talking about all the volunteer work he did. He's a lifeguard. He was in this police prep program. He volunteered with the EMT. So they really went a long way to sort of paint him as this young guy who was just out to help people, even talking about the early part of August 25, 2020, where he went to Kenosha and was cleaning graffiti.

    So I think that's why the put him on the stand.

  • John Yang:

    It also allows the prosecution to cross-examine him. What did the prosecution try to do with that opportunity?

  • Corri Hess:

    Well, the prosecution wanted to really, I think, drive home the point that there were thousands of people there that night, and Kyle Rittenhouse was the only person who killed anyone.

    And they wanted to keep reinforcing that he had this rifle, this high-powered rifle, and others didn't, and it was unlawful for him to have it. He was only 17 years old. And they kept talking about the fact that he had this gun. He tried to say that he was just there to help people, to act as a medic, but he had this gun, and, as you heard in the clips that you were playing, that he was out to kill.

    So that was what they were trying and to say all afternoon.

  • John Yang:

    And was that also the message?

    The prosecution rested their case yesterday. Was that the nub of their case during the first seven days of the trial?

  • Corri Hess:

    Yes, that has been the theme throughout, that this guy did come. This young guy came. He was inexperienced. He might have been there in the beginning to protect a business. But he very quickly moved into this crowd with a gun. And he was — he was quick to pull the trigger.

  • John Yang:

    And there was a lot of — there was some drama over this motion for a mistrial.

    And as we heard a little bit of the back-and-forth between the judge and the prosecutor, what was that all about?

  • Corri Hess:

    Yes, there was a lot of drama today.

    So, in September, the judge had ruled that several things that Kyle Rittenhouse had done could not be talked about. And the prosecution tried — kind of inched and tried to get that brought up in front of the jury. One of the things was that, 15 days before the shootings, the fatal shootings, Kyle was heard on video saying he had seen some alleged shoplifters at a CVS pharmacy.

    And he was heard on video saying he wished that he had his rifle possibly to shoot or kill these people. And so the prosecution had wanted to bring that into the trial. The judge ruled against it. He started talking about that today.

    So, things like this were really on the edge. And that's why the defense wanted a mistrial. So it just got pretty fiery today.

  • John Yang:

    And has the judge been as tough on the defense as on the prosecution throughout all this?

  • Corri Hess:

    No, it hasn't felt that way.

    And, certainly, if you're watching social media, along party lines, really, the judge has gotten a lot of pushback. But it also — the judge's role is to protect the person who is on trial and who's accused. So, I mean, I think that is something to take into consideration as well.

  • John Yang:

    The trial continues tomorrow, with the defense continuing its case.

    Corri Hess of Wisconsin Public Radio, thank you very much.

  • Corri Hess:

    Thank you.

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