A teenager who shot three people during a night of protests against racial injustice in Wisconsin broke down in tears as he told his murder trial that he “didn’t do anything wrong”.
Kyle Rittenhouse, 18, insisted in his testimony that he opened fire only in self-defence after he was ambushed and attacked on the streets of Kenosha on 25 August last year.
He is accused of killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, as well as wounding Gaige Grosskreutz with an assault-style rifle, during violent scenes sparked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Prosecutors allege Rittenhouse is a vigilante who killed two protesters, but he told his trial on Wednesday: “I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself.”
Rittenhouse faces life in prison if convicted of the most serious charges against him.
He was 17 during the protests, which followed the shooting of Mr Blake by a white police officer at a time of charged racial tensions across the US. It happened just months after the murder of George Floyd.
Rittenhouse went to Kenosha with an AK-style semi-automatic rifle and a medic bag in what he claims was a bid to protect property from rioters who had ransacked businesses in the two preceding nights.
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He said he shot Mr Rosenbaum four times after the victim chased him and placed his hand on the barrel of his rifle.
He said Mr Rosenbaum threatened to kill him twice before their final encounter, telling a group of people he was with: “I’m going to cut your f****** hearts out.”
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Rittenhouse then shot and killed Mr Huber, testifying he opened fire after his second victim hit him in the neck with his skateboard and grabbed his rifle.
He claimed that when a third man, Mr Grosskreutz, “lunges at me with his pistol pointed directly at my head,” he shot him too, wounding him.
“I didn’t intend to kill them, I intended to stop the people who were attacking me,” Rittenhouse said.
He said he was asked to help guard a used car dealership when he heard “somebody scream ‘burn in hell’, and I replied with ‘friendly, friendly, friendly’ to let them know, ‘Hey, I’m just here to help. … I don’t want any problems. I just want to put out the fires if there are any.'”
Rittenhouse claimed he was “cornered” by Mr Rosenbaum and another protester with a gun.
When he began to run, he said another protester, Joshua Ziminski, told Mr Rosenbaum: “Get him and kill him.”
He claimed he heard a gunshot behind him and turned to see Mr Rosenbaum coming at him with his arms out.
“I remember his hand on the barrel of my gun,” Rittenhouse said, as he recalled shooting him.
Mr Rittenhouse claimed he intended to help Mr Rosenbaum but was in shock as someone else attacked him.
He said he thought the “safest option” was to turn himself in to police, who were nearby.
Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has said he acted in self-defence.
The trial continues.