KENOSHA, Wis. — The defense rested its case Thursday at the murder trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, setting the stage for closing arguments Monday in the shootings that left Americans divided over whether he was a patriot taking a stand against lawlessness or a vigilante.
Rittenhouse’s lawyers completed their side of the case on Day 9 of the trial, a day after the 18-year-old Rittenhouse told the jury he was defending himself from attack and had no choice when he used his rifle to kill two men and wound a third on the streets of Kenosha in the summer of 2020.
Prosecutors have sought to portray Rittenhouse as the instigator of the bloodshed, which took place during a tumultuous night of protests against racial injustice.
Rittenhouse could get life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge against him.
The defense put witnesses on the stand across 2 1/2 days. Prosecutors presented testimony over a span of about five.
After closing arguments, names will be drawn to decide which 12 members of the jury panel will deliberate and which ones will be dismissed as alternates. Eighteen people have been hearing the case. The panel appeared overwhelmingly white.
The protests in Kenosha were set off by the wounding of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer. Rittenhouse, then 17, went to Kenosha from his home in Antioch, Illinois, in what the former police and fire youth cadet said was an effort to protect property after rioters set fires and ransacked businesses on previous nights.
Rittenhouse is white, as were those he shot.
One of the final witnesses for the defense was a use-of-force expert, John Black, who testified that less than three seconds elapsed between the time a protester fired a shot in the air and Rittenhouse opened fire with his rifle.
Black took the stand as part of an effort by Rittenhouse’s lawyers to show that he had reason to fear for his life and acted in self-defense.
The defense has suggested to the jury that the relevant timeframe for determining whether Rittenhouse’s use of force was reasonable consists of just a few minutes around the shootings.
Black said it took 2 minutes, 55 seconds, from the time the first man who was shot that night, Joseph Rosenbaum, chased Rittenhouse across a car lot to the time Rittenhouse approached police, after the shootings.
Prosecutors, for their part, have stressed a much longer window, saying the tragic chain of events occurred over hours, starting with Rittenhouse’s fateful decision to go to a volatile protest with a rifle.
On Wednesday, Rittenhouse spent most of the day on the stand giving his account of what happened in those frenzied minutes, declaring: “I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself.”
Rittenhouse testified that he heard a gunshot directly behind him as he was being chased by Rosenbaum, but also that he never saw Rosenbaum with a gun. Authorities said the shot was a bullet fired into the air by someone else in the crowd.
On Thursday, Black testified that about 2 3/4 seconds elapsed between that shot and the first one fired by Rittenhouse.
The account Rittenhouse gave has largely been corroborated by a wealth of video and the prosecution’s own witnesses: Rittenhouse said that Rosenbaum cornered him and put his hand on the barrel of his rifle, the second man hit him with a skateboard, and the third man came at him with a gun of his own.
At one point Wednesday, his lawyers angrily demanded the judge declare mistrial and bar Rittenhouse from being retried — essentially asking that the whole case be thrown out. They accused the chief prosecutor of asking Rittenhouse out-of-bounds questions.
Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder, though plainly mad at the prosecutor, did not immediately rule on the request, and pressed on with the case.