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Defense says Kyle Rittenhouse acted in self-defense when he killed two in Kenosha

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In Kenosha, Wis., next week, the prosecution in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse will continue to present testimony and video evidence. Rittenhouse is the 18-year-old who shot and killed two people and injured a third during unrest in Kenosha following the police shooting of Jacob Blake Jr. As Maayan Silver of member station WUWM in Milwaukee reports, the key issue in the trial seems to be whether his actions were criminal or whether Rittenhouse acted in self-defense.

MAAYAN SILVER, BYLINE: The star witness so far in the murder trial of Kyle Rittenhouse has been the video people took of the events that unfolded on August 25, 2020. It's shown the backdrop of armed militia and crowds during the unrest on Kenosha streets - people milling around, some yelling, pushing, shoving and sometimes setting dumpsters and garbage cans on fire. It's included video of Rittenhouse being interviewed earlier in the night by Richie McGinniss of the conservative website The Daily Caller.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICHIE MCGINNISS: What are you doing out here? Obviously you're armed, and you're in front of this business we saw burning last night. So what's up?

KYLE RITTENHOUSE: So people are getting injured, and our job is to protect this business. And part of my job is to also help people. If there's somebody's hurt, I'm running into harm's way. That's why I have my rifle because I need to protect myself, obviously.

SILVER: And it's shown the moments before Kyle Rittenhouse's confrontation with Joseph Rosenbaum, the first man he shot and killed, and the graphic aftermath.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

SILVER: Prosecutors argue that Rittenhouse was the aggressor, using deadly force in circumstances that clearly did not call for it. Here's a back and forth between Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger and McGinniss, who witnessed Rittenhouse shoot Rosenbaum.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THOMAS BINGER: Did you ever see a weapon on Mr. Rosenbaum?

MCGINNISS: I did not.

BINGER: Never saw a gun on Mr. Rosenbaum?

MCGINNISS: I did not.

BINGER: Never saw him have a knife?

MCGINNISS: Nope.

BINGER: Never saw him have a club or a bat or a chain or anything like that?

MCGINNISS: I just saw the bag that was thrown. That was it.

SILVER: Video showed Rosenbaum throw a clear plastic hospital bag with a few personal items at Rittenhouse but miss hitting him. The defense is trying to paint Rittenhouse as a victim, an aspiring EMT who only acted out of self-defense as Rosenbaum lunged for him. The defense has suggested that Joseph Rosenbaum could have taken Rittenhouse's gun and used it against him.

Also before the jury is Rittenhouse's interaction with Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz, who were both shot after they ran towards Rittenhouse once he killed Rosenbaum. Huber died. Grosskreutz, who was wounded, is expected to testify as early as Monday. And when the defense takes over next week, Wisconsin criminal defense attorney Jessa Nicholson Goetz expects a rehashing of some of the evidence but presented through a different lens.

JESSA NICHOLSON GOETZ: The defense is going to use the same video and phrase questions in a slightly different way but ask questions about the same footage and try and seek testimony or commentary that provides a different interpretation.

SILVER: Defense lawyers will have at least one option the state didn't have - putting Rittenhouse on the stand. Nicholson Goetz thinks a compelling narrative from Rittenhouse on a witness stand could help the defense. But with all the videos, it may not happen.

NICHOLSON GOETZ: In most self-defense cases, you would expect to hear from a defendant because normally there isn't all of this video footage. And so it's usually the testimony that establishes that self-defense is an issue.

SILVER: Nicholson Goetz says in the same way the prosecution has relied heavily on video to make its case, the defense might, too. And that's likely to play a role in deciding whether or not Kyle Rittenhouse will take the stand.

For NPR News, I'm Maayan Silver in Milwaukee.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.