Rittenhouse Trial in Review
As both the prosecution and defense have rested their cases, and finished their closing arguments in the Rittenhouse trial, I felt compelled to convey my experience watching the trial as well as my reaction to some of the things I have seen written or said about the trial thus far. One such article I came across was written by an author named Jay Kuo and published at secondnexus.com which appears to be in some way affiliated with George Takei, for what that is worth. The article is titled, “Was it Self-Defense or Were Rittenhouse’s Victims Provoked? The Answer Requires Bigger Questions” yet it only takes two sentences before the author is instead talking about the Ahmaud Arbery case, which of course has a completely different and dissimilar set of facts and has no bearing whatsoever on the Rittenhouse case.
In the third paragraph the author claims, “In each case, based on their own statements, the defendants were acting as unofficial armed enforcers of the law” based on my limited knowledge of the Arbery case, this appears to be at least partly true in that instance, however it is not at all true in the Rittenhouse case. Rittenhouse had his gun to protect himself, per his own testimony, should the need arise. However, video, photos and testimony show that Rittenhouse was trying to help the community on August 25, 2020, starting with cleaning graffiti off the high school that day, and then culminating with providing first aid and trying to put out fires that night, prior to the incidents in question. At no point does anyone claim Rittenhouse was trying to become law enforcement, though he was at least in some capacity standing guard at Car Source #2 as they refer to it in the trial. There is no testimony that he tried to engage anyone in that capacity, yet there is plenty of testimony and video of him rendering and offering aid to protestors. Kuo goes on to liken Rittenhouse to a mass school shooter, much like assistant D.A. Binger did during the trial, but the facts simply don’t support that assertion. The author however tries to use that image to suggest that Rittenhouse provoked the attack that was the first domino of him eventually shooting three protestors that night. The problem is, once again, testimony doesn’t support that assertion. The only way Kuo’s assertion works is if simply being there with a gun was enough to provoke an attack. If that’s the case, what about the protestors who had guns that night? We know for sure both Joshua Zaminski and Gaige Grosskreutz had guns that night. The former reported his stolen the next day (convenient), and the latter’s was picked up by a detective of the Kenosha PD that night. Not to mention the dozens of other gun shots heard on video not attributed to anyone known by this investigation.
Instead, we know, and video shows that Kyle Rittenhouse was headed to put out fires with a fire extinguisher in his hand, when he came across Josh & Kelly Zaminski, as well as the first person shot that night, Joseph Rosenbaum. It can be heard on video that someone yells ‘Burn in Hell’ or ‘Burn Inside’ (both have been testified to) and it is thought to have been Mr. Rosenbaum. Around that point, Rittenhouse sees Josh Zaminski with his gun in hand and starts to take a step back. It’s at this point that the prosecution argues through a very grainy video that they see Rittenhouse point his gun at Zaminski. Interestingly, no one can actually see what the prosecution claims to see, and that action is not depicted on any other videos, of which there are three angles, including FBI FLIR drone footage that was inexplicably hidden until just before the trial, and the high-definition version mysteriously vanished.
Video does however show Rittenhouse trying to distance himself from the Zaminskis, but suddenly, Rosenbaum comes from between two vehicles and begins chasing him. At this point, Rittenhouse drops the fire extinguisher and begins running. He can be heard yelling, “Friendly, friendly, friendly.” As he’s running across the car source parking lot, he is fast approaching another group of vehicles, and just beyond the first set of vehicles is a large group of protestors beating those cars with clubs and other objects. As he’s fleeing Rosenbaum throws a plastic bag that has some kind of heavy item inside of it, but misses Rittenhouse. Just before he reaches the videos, testimony and videos show that Mr. Zaminski fires his gun into the air. When that happens, Rittenhouse briefly turns around and displays his weapon to the fast-approaching Rosenbaum who isn’t deterred. Rittenhouse tries to continue fleeing, but Rosenbaum is quickly closing the gap. As Rittenhouse enters between two vehicles, Rosenbaum can be heard yelling, “Fuck you” and then he’s seen lunging towards Rittenhouse who turns and fires four shots in within three quarters of a second. All four strike Rosenbaum, one in the hand, one in the pelvis, one of them grazing his head and one laterally into his back as he’s falling likely from the round that struck his pelvis. The medical examiner testified that Rosenbaum was either in contact with or within six inches of the muzzle of the rifle based on the soot stippling visible on his hand. When the state asked it’s witness, Richie McGinnis how he could guess what Rosenbaum was thinking at these moments his response was, “Well he yelled fuck you and then reached for the gun.”
While this situation has been Monday morning quarterbacked to death, it is important to note that testimony from Rittenhouse and other witnesses that night showed that Rosenbaum had twice made threats telling Rittenhouse and others there trying to protect businesses that if he got them alone, he would kill them. At this point, due to a series of events, Rittenhouse was separated from others in his group and was alone. The state has maintained that Rittenhouse chased down Rosenbaum, but video seems to refute that. Just before the incident Rittenhouse was running behind Rosenbaum, but it is not clear whether he was able to identify anyone ahead of him when he began running, and he had just received a phone call telling him that fires were being set and asking if he could try to go put them out. He obtained a fire extinguisher and explained that he was trying to run towards a fire he could see. Based on his actions throughout the night, his story seems consistent with what he was doing, especially when contrasted against a theory that he was chasing Rosenbaum and the Zaminskis in an effort to start the confrontation that led to Rosenbaum’s death.
After shooting Rosenbaum, the crowd behind the cars disperses rapidly, and Rittenhouse loops around seemingly to check on the man he just shot. At this point, McGinnis who was behind Rosenbaum documenting events rushes to try to provide aid to the downed Rosenbaum. Rittenhouse appears to look at Rosenbaum, and then slowly backs up as McGinnis and now the crowd appear quite agitated. He makes a quick phone call and then is seen leaving the scene as the crowd’s agitation grows. There is testimony to what happens next, as Rittenhouse apparently runs into Jason Lackowski who was there with him that night and tells him that he shot someone and needed help. When video picks Rittenhouse back up it is clear that the crowd knows he shot someone and is beginning to form against him. People are yelling at him and begin chasing him down Sheridan Road. Per testimony of Rittenhouse and Lackowski, Rittenhouse is trying to run towards the police line to turn himself in, but the crowd’s pursuit is relentless. As Rittenhouse is running, he is hit in the head with a rock or brick knocking off his hat. Shortly thereafter, Anthony Huber, the second person killed swings a skateboard at Rittenhouse, but the blow is partially blocked and the skateboard flies from Huber’s hand. Huber is seen running to retrieve the board. Shortly after that blow, Rittenhouse is seen stumbling as he’s running and ends up falling to the ground. He testified in the trial that he became light-headed, perhaps from the shock and exhaustion, perhaps because he was hit in the head, or perhaps a combination of these factors. Either way, he is now down on Sheridan Road with a crowd of people closing in on him. The article argues that Rittenhouse was identified as an active shooter and the protestors were trying to stop him. While I think this is mostly true, Rittenhouse was fleeing, not shooting. Presumably the protestors could have chased him right to the police line and then let that sort itself out. Instead, while he was down they chose to move in for the attack. Unfortunately for Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz, I believe they thought they were trying to stop someone who shot Rosenbaum, and likely believed Rittenhouse was 100% in the wrong at the time. I’ve been in situations where mob mentality takes over, and people act without knowing details. This appears to be the case, however, the fact that the crowd likely believed they were in the right doesn’t mean Rittenhouse loses his right of self-defense.
Kuo once again tries to draw a parallels between Rittenhouse and a school shooter at this point, and then makes the following claim, “And there can be little doubt that the police would have stopped, if not gunned down, any Black man seen out that night after curfew in the midst of the Kenosha riots while brandishing an AR-15.” While there have been instances where police were too quick to shoot people of color, this claim completely ignores other times when officers were also quick to shoot white suspects. Douglas Zerby comes to mind, as well as other cases where officers killed white suspects without use of guns, such as Kelly Thomas, and Tony Timpa who died similarly to George Floyd while officers can be heard laughing at him in bodycam footage. Kuo goes on to make the assumption that Rittenhouse was “itching for an opportunity to use his weapon.” The case shows otherwise.
Rittenhouse had approximately two minutes between when he shot Rosenbaum and when he fell in the street. In the meantime, there were other gunshots that he did not respond to, protestors hit him in the head and back with objects, and he continued to flee. It wasn’t until he was on his butt in the middle of the road with nowhere to run that he was forced to use his weapon again. The first of such instances can be seen in the image below, when a man only identified in the trial as “Jump Kick Man” jumped and kicked Rittenhouse in the head. As this man is flying over Rittenhouse, two shots are discharged, neither appeared to strike the man, and since he has never been identified, it’s safe to say the shots missed.
However, prior to Jump Kick Man, another protestor that was pursuing Rittenhouse can be seen on video getting very close to the downed Rittenhouse. However, as Rittenhouse spins around on his butt and gets face to face with that protestor, the protestor can be seen pulling up and stepping back. In that case, Rittenhouse never fires a shot.
You can see in the Jump Kick Man photo above that Mr. Huber is coming towards Rittenhouse as the Jump Kick Man is still mid-air. The kick pictured spun Rittenhouse around 180 degrees and he hurries to try to get back into a position to defend himself. As he’s doing so, Huber strikes him in the head and neck with his skateboard and tries to grab his AR-15. As he grabs the fore end of the weapon, it is pulled away from Rittenhouse’s body with the barrel aiming at Huber’s chest. At that point Rittenhouse fires one shot. The shot goes into Huber’s chest and severs his aorta. Huber dies almost instantly.
As Huber is shot, Gaige Grosskreutz instinctively takes a step back and covers his head, as was probably a mostly involuntary reaction to the gun going off so close to him. He then puts his hands up in a position that looks like surrender, as he is face to face with Rittenhouse. The two appear to be about three feet apart, as Grosskreutz can be seen a second later closing the gap between them with a single step. During that step Grosskreutz can be seen with his left hand apparently reaching towards Rittenhouse’s AR-15. Meanwhile, his right hand, which is holding his Glock 27 pistol lowers and points towards the direction of Rittenhouse’s head. The following zoomed in photograph was shown by the defense during trial, and Grosskreutz is asked a question along the lines of, “The defendant didn’t shoot until you pointed your gun at his head, correct?” To which Grosskreutz responds, correct. In the photo you can see Mr. Grosskreutz’s bicep being destroyed. Any notion that the gun moved in the time it took that round to go off and travel 3,000 feet per second through Mr. Grosskruetz’s bicep is bogus, literally nothing moved in any perceptible way in that amount of time.
What happened after this final shot fired by Rittenhouse is mostly inconsequential to the trial. Testimony and video from multiple witnesses and angles show that Rittenhouse tried to turn himself into police there in Kenosha mere blocks away from this incident, but he was told to go home, and pepper sprayed. It is evident that the officers did not know what Rittenhouse was doing. Rittenhouse then drove home, explained to his mom and sisters what happened, and turned himself into police in nearby Antioch shortly thereafter.
Other Important Trial Notes:
The state has tried to make a big deal over the fact that Rittenhouse was using full metal jacket (FMJ) rounds in his AR-15 while one witness testified that he used hollow points in his Glock for self-defense. Mr. Binger has incorrectly asserted that “FMJ bullets are designed to pass through the initial target and continue on for some time.” and that they are designed to “cause the maximum amount of damage.” First, and foremost, all bullets are designed to cause substantial damage to soft tissue. The primary reason to use hollow points in a handgun is not to stop overpenetration for the sake of not penetrating, but rather to expand, cause a larger wound cavity, and expend all of the energy inside the flesh of the target being shot. They are designed to cause more damage, not less. This is where it is important to note however, that from within 100 yards or so, which any self-defense shooting that night would obviously be within that range, hollow points would make virtually no difference out of an AR-15 simply because the amount of energy carried in that round to the target would not guarantee any type of expansion, nor would it be likely to stop over penetration. It is also important to note that self-defense rounds made for AR-15s are generally a heavier projectile, such as 69 or 73 grains, than the 55 grain round used by Rittenhouse. Penetration testing has shown more penetration for these rounds because they end up carrying more energy than the lighter 55 grain projectiles. This is an argument made by a prosecutor who doesn’t know anything about weapons or ammo, and they offer it as their own testimony without an expert, asserting fact where they have no basis of knowledge.
Hocus Pocus Out of Focus
Rittenhouse’s attorney, Mark Richards made a comment during his closing statement that the state took an expert, James Armstrong, who couldn’t explain his process (true, but more on that in a second), and 20 hours to create an image that they claim shows Rittenhouse pointing his gun at Mr. Zaminski. He stated that “what he did for those 20 hours was hocus pocus, and he makes an exhibit that is out of focus.” Aside from this line being the “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” equivalent in this trial, it’s quite true. I’ve seen dozens of people try to interpret what they see in that video and image, and no one can agree, while most say they can’t make out anything of substance. Armstrong could not explain how the interpolation used to enlarge the image selected data to make up for additional pixels necessary to make a bigger image. Essentially, the computer created pixels to make the enlargement, but Armstrong could not testify to exactly how the computer selected data to place in those new pixels. The result was an image that was incomprehensible that the state insisted depicts Rittenhouse pointing his gun at Zaminski. The defense rightly pointed out that for that to be true, based on the positions of Rittenhouse and Zaminski, the defendant would have had to inexplicably chosen only that point in time to utilize his rifle from a left-handed grip. At no other point on video do we see Rittenhouse gripping the rear pistol grip with his left hand and the foregrip with his right. That would have had to be the case for the state’s theory to make sense in this one instance. Amusingly, Richards also points out, correctly, that Rittenhouse’s rifle isn’t left handed, and that would be even more cumbersome. One would have to understand the AR-15 a little better to get the argument, but essentially, a normal right-handed version of the rifle ejects brass to the right side, away from the shooter’s face which is positioned on the left side of the stock when holding the rifle right-handed. If one holds a normal AR-15 left-handed, the brass ejects towards their face. It’s not unheard of to use the rifle this way, and many do, but there do exist left-handed options to eliminate this issue. The state’s attorney James Krause incorrectly states that there is no such thing as a left-handed gun during his rebuttal of the defense’s closing arguments.
Too Cowardly to Use his Fists
During the rebuttal, James Krause makes an argument that basically amounts to Rittenhouse was trigger happy, despite the fact that Rittenhouse literally didn’t shoot anyone who wasn’t directly attacking or trying to attack him. Krause at one-point asserts that Rittenhouse should have fought Rosenbaum with his fists, despite the fact that he had just tried to flee, and he was in the middle of a hostile crowd that was unlikely to let a one on one fight between the two occur. Never mind the fact that in a scuffle such as the one Krause says Rittenhouse should have entered, his gun could have easily been turned against him by Rosenbaum or another protestor. Krause says a 17-year-old who already heard Rosenbaum threaten to kill him should have simply taken a beating, notwithstanding any thoughts that a beating could end in him getting beat to death by an angry mob of protestors. Krause even more bizarrely claims that you can’t get killed with fists, or even a skateboard. He mocks the thought of calling a skateboard a deadly weapon and says that someone should tell parents and Santa Clause that they should get their kids AR-15s instead. Despite being quite a condescending argument, FBI statistics show that more people are beat to death with fists and blunt objects than die from long guns every year. Usually by a factor of 5.
There are many more bizarre arguments put on by the state, but I’ve seen most of them covered extensively elsewhere. The only other one that really sticks out right now is prosecutor Binger seemingly asking Rittenhouse why he didn’t wait for Grosskreutz to shoot him or put his gun directly to Rittenhouse’s head before decided to defend himself.
Overall, the facts in this trial seem to strongly support the claim of self-defense of the defendant Kyle Rittenhouse. Questions of whether he should have been there may be valuable, particularly from a hindsight perspective, but they have no bearing on whether or not Rittenhouse had the right of self-defense. Simply being at the protest is not a good argument for provocation despite what Kuo or the state might say. If it were, anyone there with any kind of weapon was a provocateur. The reality is that Rittenhouse as likely attacked by Rosenbaum because he was young, looked rather unimposing, and he was alone at the time. Unfortunately for Huber and Grosskreutz, Rosenbaum set off a chain of events, that despite them likely believing they were pursuing an aggressor, got them both shot by the defendant as well. While their decision to pursue was certainly not smart, particularly in hindsight, I can understand why someone in that position might make that decision, and how it can even seem morally justifiable in the moment. That moral justification however cannot as a matter of law strip the defendant from the right of self-preservation through use of force. Kuo couldn’t be more wrong about that assertion.