Witness in Kyle Rittenhouse trial says first shooting victim acted 'belligerently'
KENOSHA, Wis. (CNN/CBS 58) -- The first man shot and killed by Kyle Rittenhouse during protests in Wisconsin acted "very belligerently" and asked to be shot, but was not perceived as a serious threat, a former Marine testified Friday.
The testimony of Jason Lackowski, the state's seventh witness, came after a second juror in Kyle Rittenhouse's homicide trial was dismissed in as many days due to her pregnancy.
A juror was removed Thursday for telling a joke to a deputy earlier this week about the police shooting of Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old Black man whose wounding in August 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, sparked the volatile unrest during which Rittenhouse, then 17, killed two men and wounded another.
Rittenhouse fired an AR-15-style weapon eight times during the unrest: four shots at Joseph Rosenbaum, who was unarmed; two shots at an unarmed unknown individual who kicked Rittenhouse; one fatal shot at Anthony Huber, who hit Rittenhouse with a skateboard; and one shot at Gaige Grosskreutz, who was holding a gun, according to prosecutors.
Lackowski, who was armed the night of the unrest, said he had traveled to Kenosha to protect local property. He said he met Rittenhouse, who introduced himself as an EMT.
Earlier in the night, Lackowski interacted with Joseph Rosenbaum, who was shot and killed first. The prosecution again drilled down on Rosenbaum's state of mind, to see if he was a threat when Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed him.
The former Marine testified that he came across Rosenbaum, who "had been...acting very belligerently, he had asked very bluntly to shoot him," but that he did not consider the man to be a threat. "He had asked, very bluntly, to shoot him. He did what I would call 'false stepping', which is making a step to entice somebody to do something." Prosecutor Thomas Binger asked, "Did you consider him a threat?" Lackowski replied, "No." Binger asked, "Did you feel that he posed any danger to you or anyone else?" Again, Lackowski said, "No."
Lackowski said he perceived Rosenbaum as a "babbling idiot" and that he turned away and ignored him.
At one point, Lackowski testified, he ran towards the sound of gunfire and encountered Rittenhouse -- who appeared "frazzled, in shock" and was still armed -- running away.
Rittenhouse "had indicated that he ... did not shoot anybody" and that he needed help, Lackowski testified after referring a copy of his statement to the FBI to refresh his memory.
"I told him to run to the police that were down the road," Lackowski recalled telling the defendant. Then, the witness said, more gunshots exploded in the direction Rittenhouse was running.
Lackowski said he "blacked out" at some point but recalled seeing a wounded Grosskreutz on the ground. After Grosskreutz was taken away for treatment, Lackowski said he saw a pistol on the ground. He emptied the magazine and police told him to drop it.
Seeking to counter Rittenhouse's self-defense strategy, a prosecutor noted that Lackowski did not use his firearm that night and that he was not assaulted.
"There was no need for it," the witness said.
Next on the stand was Karriann Swart, Joseph Rosenbaum's fiancé. She recalled watching a video of the shooting online after the medical examiner called to say Rosenbaum had been killed. She said, "I broke down, and I can't get that image out of my head. So, yeah…"
She said Rosenbaum had just gotten out of the hospital that day. But a key moment came when the defense argued since the prosecution asked its own witness about the hospital, the defense was allowed to ask about Rosenbaum's bipolar disorder.
The jury was sent out while it was argued before Judge Bruce Schroeder, who said, "I think there's enough information that it's admissible. The state did open the door." The judge agreed with the defense, and the jury was called back.
Rittenhouse's defense attorney Corey Chirafisi asked Swart, "Mr. Rosenbaum was taking Gabapentin, is that right?" She said, "I believe so, yes. That's what I was told." Chirafisi then asked, "Ok, and you know, having been around him, that that was for bipolar disorder?" To which Swart said, "It was to help, along with the anti-depressant."
The last witness called Friday was a Kenosha patrol officer on duty that night. Officer Pep Moretti said, "Given everything that was taking place, a war zone is the only way I could describe it."
Officer Moretti was driving a police cruiser as Kyle Rittenhouse walked away from the shootings, at times with his hands up, other times holding his AR-15. Officer Moretti said, "I've never in my career had somebody put their hands up and continue to advance and disobey orders from us."
The state is expected to call its most consequential witness Monday: Gaige Grosskreutz confronted Rittenhouse, was shot, and survived. And Kyle Rittenhouse himself is expected to take the stand sometime mid-week.
Latest dismissal leave 18 jurors
The latest juror dismissal leaves the panel with 18 jurors -- eight men and 10 women.
The pregnant juror appeared Friday in the jury box wearing a blue face mask. Judge Bruce Schroeder briefly questioned her before dismissing her.
"Bless you and good luck," the judge said.
Schroeder later told the remaining jurors that panel member No. 27 was "experiencing some mild discomfort, she's pregnant and requested to be dismissed and I granted that request with the consent of the attorneys."
"There's 18 of us," he said after both sides agreed to dismiss the juror.
The jury will be narrowed to 12 once deliberations begin, according to the judge. The jury was selected in a single day without the use of a preliminary questionnaire.
It is the first week of testimony in the trial of Rittenhouse, now 18.
He has pleaded not guilty to seven charges, including first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide and first-degree attempted intentional homicide. His attorney says he acted in self-defense.
The prosecution has portrayed Rittenhouse as a young vigilante bent on violence, while the defense maintained that he was defending himself.
Joke led to first juror dismissal
The male juror dismissed Thursday made the joke that led to his removal while being escorted to his car, Schroeder said.
"I'm going to summarize what I remember, what I was told," the judge said. "He was telling a joke ... he told the officer ... he made a reference about telling a joke about 'Why did it take seven shots to shoot Jacob Blake,' something to that effect."
Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger took particular issue with the incident.
"The joke is in bad taste, there are a plethora of bad jokes out there with everything to do with all this, this is one of them. But I think the rest of this joke, as it were, suggests some sort of racial bias which I think comes into play," he said.
The judge questioning the juror, who affirmed he told the joke but declined to repeat it. The middle-aged juror looked ill-at-ease, fumbling to hold a portable microphone and speaking through a multicolored face mask, according to a pool reporter.
"My feelings is, it was nothing to do with the case. It was nothing to do with Kyle and his charges," the juror told the judge.
Both the defense and the prosecution agreed to dismiss the juror, and the judge admonished him while doing so.
"It is clear that the appearance to bias is present and it would seriously undermine the outcome of the case," Schroeder said.
Blake's family is "disturbed and disgusted" by reports of the dismissed juror's joke, his uncle said Thursday.
Witness says he did not see a weapon in Rosenbaum's hand
On Thursday, Ryan Balch, a military veteran who was with Rittenhouse on the night of the fatal shootings in Kenosha, said during testimony that he did not see a weapon in Rosenbaum's hand.
Balch was armed with an AR-15 and a handgun while wearing body armor. He spent much of the evening close to Rittenhouse, describing Rittenhouse as "a young and impressionable kid" who "seemed under-equipped" and "under-experienced." He also said Rittenhouse told him that he was a 19-year-old certified EMT.
Balch described Rosenbaum as "hyper-aggressive and acting out in a violent manner" when questioned by Binger. He also said he did not see Rosenbaum cause any physical injury to anyone on the night of the shootings.
Balch also described an encounter he had with Rosenbaum, saying Rosenbaum "threatened him and the defendant (Rittenhouse)."
"I turned and had an exchange with one of the protesters, and I kind of explained to that protester, 'Hey, you know, I get it, get what you are trying to do but like not this,' and when I turned around, Rosenbaum was right there in front of my face, yelling and screaming.
"And I said, 'Dude, back up, chill. I don't know what your problem is?' He goes, 'You know, If I catch any of you guys alone tonight, I'm gonna f**king kill you,'" Balch said, adding that Rittenhouse was close enough to hear what was said.
Balch said Rosenbaum neither reached for any weapons nor did he touch him.
"He had a bag full of what looked to be chemicals to me," Balch said. "I made the assumption at the time and told the FBI the same thing that I thought it was for making Molotov cocktails."
The bag Balch saw with Rosenbaum was the same bag laying on the ground after Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum, Balch testified.
Journalist who saw shooting says he felt in danger
Richie McGinniss, a journalist who was just feet from Rittenhouse when the teenager fatally shot Rosenbaum, testified Thursday that he felt he was in danger during the shooting.
"I became extremely worried, because I was behind Rosenbaum, that I was gonna be caught in the -- whatever was about to happen," he said.
"Given where I was, certainly I was in danger," he added.
The testimony is key to one of the charges against Rittenhouse -- a felony count of first-degree recklessly endangering safety.
McGinniss, the chief video director for the news website The Daily Caller, testified that he traveled to Kenosha to film parts of the unrest that he felt were not being covered in other media. He said he felt the presence of an armed group of men made the scene more dangerous.
"Anytime that there are guns, that elevates the level of danger in my mind," he said.
That night, he trailed behind Rittenhouse and Rosenbaum in the seconds before the shooting. He said his eyes "were fixated on the barrel of the weapon because I didn't want to end up on the receiving end of that."
McGinniss said Rosenbaum appeared to lunge at Rittenhouse's weapon at the same time Rittenhouse shot him.
"It was as if, you know, if you were to lunge at somebody, if anybody were to lunge, they would probably stop themselves, you know, from falling face down on the ground, but the shots were fired in the exact instance that his momentum was going forward and that continued until Mr. Rosenbaum landed on the ground," McGinniss said.
After the shooting, McGinniss tried to render aid to Rosenbaum, who was lying lifeless on the ground. McGinniss and several other people carried Rosenbaum across the street to a car and then rode in the trunk to a nearby hospital.
"We drove down a small ramp and at that point I was alone in the back with Mr. Rosenbaum and I was just telling him that we're going to have a beer together afterwards and it was all going to be OK," McGinniss said.
McGinniss at times became emotional during his testimony, wiping his face and sniffling as he turned to watch video of the shooting.
"Is it hard for you to see that?" prosecutor Binger asked him.
"I certainly don't like to watch it," McGinniss replied.
McGinniss said he told police Rittenhouse was "trying to evade" individuals, including Rosenbaum, prior to the fatal shooting. Rittenhouse did not seem menacing aside from the fact he had a weapon, McGinniss said.
On Wednesday and Thursday, prosecutors played about a dozen videos that, taken together, showed what happened before, during and after Rittenhouse killed two men and wounded another in Kenosha.
In particular, new FBI infrared aerial surveillance video provided a unique angle into the final moments before the teenager fatally shot Rosenbaum. The infrared video, grainy and shot from 8,500 feet overhead, shows Rittenhouse hustling along a sidewalk and passing Rosenbaum, who is positioned next to a cluster of parked cars.
The video shows the two stop and interact, and Rosenbaum, who was unarmed, then begins to run toward Rittenhouse, who is armed with a rifle. Rittenhouse runs away from Rosenbaum before the teenager ultimately turns and shoots him four times, the video shows.
Contributions also made to this article by The-CNN-Wire