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Kyle Rittenhouse takes the stand during his homicide trial in Wisconsin


Kyle Rittenhouse testified for the first time at his criminal trial in Kenosha, Wis., yesterday. Rittenhouse, 18 years old, says he feared for his life when he shot three men during a night of anti-police protests last summer. Two of the men were killed. A third was wounded. Chuck Quirmbach of member station WUWM has been following the trial, and he joins us now. Chuck, thanks for being here. Kyle Rittenhouse, as we noted, was on the stand for most of the day yesterday. Can you describe what defense attorneys were trying to convey?

CHUCK QUIRMBACH, BYLINE: Well, throughout the trial, they've really tried to paint a picture of a young man - he was 17 at the time of the shootings - who was a good guy caught up in bad circumstances. On the stand, Rittenhouse talked about his work in the fields that focus on helping people. He was a lifeguard both in Illinois and in Wisconsin, just outside Kenosha. He carried a medical bag that night. He was trained in CPR and had been part of a youth trainee program, EMT cadet program in the fire department where he lived in Antioch, Ill.

MARTIN: So that's his background, but most of the questioning focused on the events that led up to the shooting, right? What did he say about that?

QUIRMBACH: Right. When being questioned by one of his attorneys, Rittenhouse talked about meeting up with other civilians, many of them armed to help protect buildings the night of the shootings, particularly protect used car lots that had been damaged the previous nights during the protests. After law enforcement forced protesters away from where Rittenhouse was stationed, he and another armed man went back among the protesters, Rittenhouse said, to offer more medical aid. The two became separated as he was walking to another car lot where there was a report of a fire. Rittenhouse encountered Joseph Rosenbaum. He said Rosenbaum began yelling at him, chasing him. Rittenhouse said he feared for his life during encounters with Rosenbaum and the other men he later shot, Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz. Rosenbaum and Huber died. Grosskreutz was wounded.

MARTIN: So Rittenhouse was there as sort of a vigilante. I mean, he says he was there just to protect buildings and property during the protests. How did prosecutors challenge that?

QUIRMBACH: Well, Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger really tried to pick apart Rittenhouse's intent that night. Binger focused on the AR-15, the rifle Rittenhouse used in the shootings, how it was purchased for Rittenhouse by his friend because Rittenhouse couldn't legally buy it on his own in Wisconsin. Binger also focused on Rittenhouse's actions leading up to the shootings, saying it was the defendant, not the man he shot, who posed a threat. Rittenhouse became emotional when Binger wanted to know more about, when being chased by Rosenbaum, why Rittenhouse turned around and pointed his gun at the man.


THOMAS BINGER: Why'd you point it at him if you didn't have any intention of shooting?

KYLE RITTENHOUSE: He was chasing me. I was alone. He threatened to kill me earlier in that night. I didn't want to have to shoot him.

QUIRMBACH: So Rittenhouse's testimony ended in late afternoon. The defense's case is expected to resume this morning with testimony from their video expert who's likely to talk about some of the footage we've seen during the trial.

MARTIN: We should mention the family of Jacob Blake Jr. He was the Black man who was shot and wounded by police last August, and it was his shooting that catalyzed the protests in Kenosha. Some of his family gathered last night, I understand.

QUIRMBACH: Right. About 30 people held a brief march and vigil. Some spoke to a fairly large number of news reporters who were there. One of the speakers was Jacob Blake's uncle, Justin Blake, who has been outside the courthouse during almost the entire trial. Blake said they were there to support - show support for the men who had died or had been wounded.

MARTIN: Chuck Quirmbach with member station WUWM. Thank you.

QUIRMBACH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Chuck Quirmbach is a Milwaukee-based reporter who covers developments and issues in Southeastern Wisconsin that are of statewide interest. He has numerous years of experience covering state government, elections, the environment, energy, racial diversity issues, clergy abuse claims and major baseball stadium doings. He enjoys covering all topics.