Black said he purchased the gun for Rittenhouse because the teenager was too young to buy it, and Black kept the weapon locked up in his Kenosha home. But when Kenosha was rocked by riots in August 2020, Black testified, his stepfather removed that gun and others from of the safe, and Rittenhouse retrieved it from their home on the day of the shootings.
Those shootings gave way to Rittenhouse’s trial, which began this week in a Kenosha courthouse. Rittenhouse is charged with homicide, attempted homicide and other counts. He has pleaded not guilty.
Black was the first witness to testify in the trial. The prosecution and defense laid out dueling narratives on the polarizing case in opening statements Tuesday, painting Rittenhouse as either an aggressor who turned to violence or a victim protecting himself from an attack.
During their statements, the attorneys offered areas of agreement: Kenosha was aflame, they said, with protests, riots and looting shaking the community after an officer was filmed shooting and injuring Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man. Rittenhouse went to the city from his home in Illinois and, during confrontations that ensued there, shot and killed two people — 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum and 26-year-old Anthony Huber — and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, who was also 26 at the time.
The question, these attorneys and outside experts say, is whether jurors agree with Rittenhouse’s argument that he acted in self-defense.
This case “isn’t a whodunit, when did it happen or anything like that,” said Mark Richards, one of Rittenhouse’s attorneys. Instead, “the central issue in this case is going to be self-defense,” said Thomas C. Binger, one of the prosecutors.
During his testimony on Tuesday, Black said that he had dated Rittenhouse’s sister and become friends with the teenager, at one point confirming that they had referred to each other as brothers.
Black testified that he bought Rittenhouse the AR-15 later used in the shootings with the 17-year-old’s money, with the plan that Rittenhouse would get it when he turned 18. Black said he lived in Kenosha with his stepfather and kept the gun locked up at that house. But his stepfather took the weapon out because of the rioting, he said, in case someone broke into their home.
While Rittenhouse was in their home the day of the shootings, he got the gun and searched for medical supplies like bandages, Black testified.
After the shootings, he said, he drove Rittenhouse home, where he said the 17-year-old’s family suggested fleeing town to family property in Michigan or West Virginia. Black said he lobbied instead for Rittenhouse to promptly turn himself in to police.
Black is also facing criminal charges over the gun purchase in a case filed by the same office prosecuting Rittenhouse. Black acknowledged hoping that his testimony could help him with that case but said prosecutors have not promised him anything.
While the prosecution and defense agreed Tuesday on some basic facts, the two sides found little other common ground.
Binger, an assistant Kenosha County district attorney, repeatedly cast Rittenhouse — who traveled to Kenosha from his home in Antioch, Ill., about 20 miles away — as an outsider, making multiple references to “our community.”
During his 35-minute opening remarks, Binger said that “tourists from outside our community were drawn to the chaos here in Kenosha.”
People in Kenosha were shaken and afraid as protests there gave way to riots and destruction after Blake was shot, Binger said, so they boarded up windows or armed themselves. He called those actions reasonable but described Rittenhouse as an outlier amid the mayhem for turning to violence.
Despite all of the confrontations, fear and unrest on Kenosha’s streets at the time, Binger said, “the only person that killed anyone was the defendant, Kyle Rittenhouse,” repeatedly pointing at him in the courtroom for emphasis.
Richards spoke next, saying that Rittenhouse saw the looting and destruction and wanted only to help defend the community.
During his 41-minute statement, Richards displayed a series of photographs and video footage from the night of the shootings to buttress his narrative. The case, he said, will turn on events that occurred over just a matter of minutes.
Responding to Binger’s comment that only Rittenhouse shot someone amid the unrest, he said that only Rittenhouse was chased by Rosenbaum. After that shooting, people in Kenosha “attacked him in the street like an animal,” Richards said about his client.
Richards added later that Rittenhouse approached police with his hands raised to turn himself in but was told to keep moving, so he returned home. He later turned himself in in Illinois.
Richards also pushed back on the depiction of Rittenhouse as an interloper, pointing out to the jury of Kenosha County residents that his father lived in Kenosha and that Rittenhouse had a lifeguarding job nearby.
Later on Tuesday, prosecutors called Koerri Washington, a Kenosha resident who live-streamed local social justice protests on Facebook that summer. Much of the video footage from the night of the shootings came from Washington’s Facebook streams, some of which Binger showed the jury.
The main video, which ran about 10 minutes, showed Rittenhouse mingling among other young armed men at a gas station, three blocks from where he shot Rosenbaum. It was there that arguments broke out between protesters and the armed men who had flocked to Kenosha.
Binger asked Washington whether any of the armed men, despite the aggression directed at them from demonstrators, had fired shots at the gas station. Washington said no.
Guarino reported from Kenosha.