'I did what I had to do': Teenage Kenosha protest shooter tells trial he was defending himself

"I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself" Rittenhouse claims to the court

A teenager who killed two protesters in the US has told his murder trial he was defending himself when he fired the fatal shots.

Kyle Rittenhouse, 18, is on trial for the shootings he committed during sometimes-violent protests that erupted in Kenosha last summer over the wounding of a black man by a white police officer.

Taking the stand on Wednesday, the teenager said he was under attack when he shot three men, two fatally.

“I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself,” Rittenhouse told the court.

The case against Rittenhouse has divided the US over whether he was acting against unlawfulness or whether he was a vigilante who took a powerful assault rifle into the middle of a protest.

The trial had to be suspended for ten minutes after the teenager wept

During cross-examination, prosecutor Thomas Binger asked Rittenhouse about whether it was appropriate to use deadly force to protect property.

The prosecutor also posed questions about Rittenhouse’s silence after his arrest.

The judge criticised the lawyer for an improper line of questioning prompting Rittenhouse's lawyer to suggest prosecutors might be deliberately trying to cause a mistrial because this one is “going badly” for the prosecution and it wants a do-over.

The teenager faces life in prison if he is convicted of the most serious charges.

When Binger said he had been acting in good faith, the judge replied: “I don’t believe that.”

Credit: AP

Who is Kyle Rittenhouse and what charges does he dace?

Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, went to Kenosha with an AR-style semi-automatic weapon and a medic bag in what the former police youth cadet said was an attempt to protect property after rioters had set fires and ransacked businesses on previous nights.

He testified that he fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum after Rosenbaum chased him and put his hand on the barrel of Rittenhouse’s rifle.

He said he then shot and killed Anthony Huber after Huber struck him in the neck with his skateboard and grabbed his gun.

When a third man, Gaige Grosskreutz, “lunges at me with his pistol pointed directly at my head,” Rittenhouse shot him, too, wounding him.

“I didn’t intend to kill them. I intended to stop the people who were attacking me,” Rittenhouse said.

Prosecutors have portrayed him as the instigator that night, while the defence has said he feared for his life, afraid that his gun was going to be taken away and used against him.

Much of the testimony Wednesday was centred on the first shooting of the night, since it was Rosenbaum’s death that set in motion the bloodshed that followed.

Rittenhouse said he was walking toward a car dealer’s lot with a fire extinguisher to put out a blaze when he heard somebody scream, “Burn in hell!” He said he responded by saying, “Friendly, friendly, friendly!”

He said Rosenbaum was running at him from one side and another protester with a gun was in front of him, “and I was cornered.” He said that was when he began to run. He said another protester, Joshua Ziminski, told Rosenbaum, “Get him and kill him.”

Credit: AP

Rittenhouse said he heard a gunshot directly behind him, and as he turned around, Rosenbaum was coming at him with his arms out in front. “I remember his hand on the barrel of my gun,” Rittenhouse said.

“I shoot him,” the defendant recounted.

Rittenhouse said he intended to help the wounded man but was in shock as someone else attended to him. Rittenhouse said he thought the “safest option” was to turn himself into police who were nearby.

It was some time before Rittenhouse did turn himself into police, with the other two shootings taking place before he walked away from the protest.

Asked by his lawyer why he didn’t keep running away from Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse said: “There was no space for me to continue to run to.”

As he first took the stand, Rittenhouse was asked by his lawyer whether he came to Kenosha looking for trouble, and he responded no.