Prosecutors in Rittenhouse trial rest their case, but face questions about strategy
The prosecution has rested its case in the murder trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, who's accused of two homicides and another attempted homicide during protests in Kenosha, Wis. last year.
Rittenhouse, now 18, shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and injured Gaige Grosskreutz during a racial justice protest on the night of Aug. 25, 2020. Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Legal experts say the outcome in the case could ultimately come down to how well the prosecution made its central argument — that Rittenhouse was the aggressor of the violence and not just acting in self-defense, as he claims.
Jessa Nicholson Goetz, a private defense attorney in Madison who represented Rittenhouse for nine days before leaving the case in September 2020, said prosecutors didn't make that case very strongly.
"I'm just one lawyer, but in my view, not particularly well, no," she told NPR.
With the trial now shifting to the Rittenhouse's defense team, here are three key moments from the prosecution's case that could prove pivotal:
A witness testifies that one of the victims went for Rittenhouse's gun
Richard McGinnis, a video producer with the right-wing news site The Daily Caller, testified that he saw one of the victims reach for Rittenhouse's gun before being shot.
McGinnis said he saw Rosenbaum lunge for Rittenhouse's rifle, at which point Rittenhouse dodged and fired four times. Video evidence of the encounter between Rittenhouse and Rosenbaum is sparse, which is why the testimony of McGinnis could be crucial.
Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger suggested there was no way McGinnis could know what Rosenbaum was trying to do as he lunged toward Rittenhouse.
But McGinnis replied, "Well, he said 'f*** you' and he reached for the weapon."
During his opening statement, Binger also conceded that Rosenbaum had been acting "agitated" and "getting in people's faces" on the night of the protest. But he sought to underscore a key distinction — that it was only Rittenhouse who responded with lethal force that night.
The sole survivor testified that he raised his gun toward Rittenhouse
Grosskreutz, the only surviving victim in the case, took the stand for the prosecution and described what occurred in the moments before he was shot.
But Nicholson Goetz said prosecutors failed to mention during their questioning that Grosskreutz did not tell police that he was carrying a Glock pistol at the time — a point that came out in cross examination under questioning by the defense.
Grosskreutz, a trained medic, testified that when he heard the gunshots that killed Rosenbaum, he ran toward the sound.
As Grosskreutz got closer, Rittenhouse was confronted by Anthony Huber, who hit him with a skateboard. Rittenhouse then shot and killed Huber.
Grosskreutz told defense attorneys that he had raised his gun and was approaching Rittenhouse at the moment he was fired upon. He said he was not intentionally pointing the weapon at Rittenhouse.
"I was never trying to kill the defendant," he testified. He said he did not draw the gun "with the express intent of using it" but rather to be "ready" if he felt that it was necessary.
"The prosecution chose to put on the most favorable version of that direct examination — and he's the star witness because he is, of course, the surviving injured party here — when they could've put on a marginally less persuasive direct [examination] but one that accounted for all of the minefields that the defense was about to trigger," Nicholson Goetz said.
The confrontation between Huber and Rittenhouse
Earlier, in opening statements, defense lawyer Mark Richards seized on the confrontation between Huber and Rittenhouse to say that Huber had swung the skateboard at his client in an attempt to "to separate the head from the body." Prosecutors objected, but the judge overruled.
Craig Mastantuono, a law professor at Marquette University, previously told NPR that, although the pretrial publicity around the case likely made it harder for the state to make its case, prosecutors were able to shed reasonable doubt on Rittenhouse's claims of self-defense.
"The prosecution did a fairly decent job of putting some context to it by drawing a contrast between Mr. Rittenhouse and everyone else at these events and saying repeatedly he was the only one who killed people," Mastantuono said.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.