The first man shot and killed by Kyle Rittenhouse during protests in Wisconsin acted “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 Rittenhouse’s homicide trial was dismissed in as many days due to her pregnancy.
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.
The former Marine testified that he also 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.
Lackowski said he perceived Rosenbaum as a “babbling idiot” and that he turned away and ignored him. He said Rosenbaum was “false stepping … to entice someone to do something” – an action he demonstrated for the jury as taking a quick step forward before stepping back.
At one point, Lackowski testified, he ran toward 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.
Latest dismissal leaves 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 panel 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 has maintained that he was defending himself.
On Friday, Huber’s great aunt, Susan Hughes, described her niece’s son for the jury. She said they both had red hair and used to talk about art, music and Star Wars.
Hughes said Huber was an avid skateboarder who even rode in the snow. Huber told her he knew Blake and that he was going to the protests to take video, she testified. He had gotten his driver’s license on his birthday, the Friday before he was killed, she said.
Kariann Swart, Rosenbaum’s fiancée, also took the stand for the prosecution. They had been homeless, she said, and were staying in a motel at the time of his death.
Rosenbaum had gotten out of a hospital in Milwaukee the day he was killed, she said. He was carrying a plastic bag with papers, socks, deodorant and a toothbrush and paste, she said.
Swart said she was called by the medical examiner about 4 a.m. and informed that he had been killed. She fell to her knees and cried. She said she had asked him not to go downtown because of the unrest.
Swart said she later watched a video that showed Rosenbaum dying.
“I broke down and I can’t get that image of my head,” she testified.
The next day, Swart said, she visited the spot at a car dealership where Rosenbaum was killed and put her hand on the still blood-stained pavement. She collapsed, she said.
Under cross-examination, Swart said Rosenbaum had been taking medication “to help” with bipolar disorder.
In other testimony Friday, Officer Pep Moretti with the Kenosha Police Department described the chaotic scene unfolding when responding to the shootings that night.
“War zone is the only way I could describe it. We were surrounded. The city was burning and on fire. We were outnumbered and completely surrounded,” he said on stand.
Moretti said when Rittenhouse approached his vehicle shortly after shooting three people, he was not following Moretti’s commands. Moretti said he drew his firearm on Rittenhouse while another officer deployed pepper spray to deter him from further approaching their vehicle.
Video played in the courtroom showed Rittenhouse approaching Moretti’s vehicle with his arms up. But Moretti said he could still hear gunfire and was under the impression an active shooting situation was ongoing. He did not perceive Rittenhouse to be the shooter.
Instead, the officers felt Rittenhouse was standing in the way as they were trying to respond to people injured further down the street. Moretti said he commanded Rittenhouse to get out of the road and stay back.
“(Rittenhouse) approached the passenger side of our patrol vehicle. With him disobeying the commands and being armed with a rifle like that, I drew my service weapon,” Moretti said. “It became clear and obvious that (Rittenhouse) was not going to go away, that he continued to just advance on us and disobey commands.”
Asked if Moretti pointed his gun at Rittenhouse, Moretti said, “I imagine that I would have had it pointed it at him, because somebody advancing on us with a rifle and not obeying commands at the point would be taken as a threat.”
The defense sought to argue that Moretti’s only commands were for Rittenhouse to get out of the road, and they played video showing Rittenhouse moving to the side of the road and approaching the passenger side of the vehicle.
“In hindsight, the person who was involved in this – for a lack of a better term and you didn’t know it at the time – but he was surrendering to you,” said Attorney Corey Chirafisi, a lawyer for Rittenhouse.
“That’s quite possible, yes,” Moretti said.
When asked by the defense team why Moretti didn’t collect information from Rittenhouse, Moretti said they believed there was an active shooting situation still unfolding and the victims took priority over collecting information from Rittenhouse at that moment, who they did not perceive to be the source of the shooting.
“There was probably more people armed with weapons than not throughout the entire course of the civil unrest,” he said, adding that seeing someone with AR-15 didn’t necessarily mean much to him at that moment.
Brothers say they never asked anyone to protect car lot
Brothers Anmol and Sahil Khindri, who work at car dealerships owned by their father, testified that they didn’t ask Rittenhouse or others to guard their property.
Anmol Khindri said he briefly spoke with Rittenhouse but there was no protection request.
He said he gave his phone number to Rittenhouse after discussing a fundraiser.
Rittenhouse texted on the 25th: “It’s Kyle do you need anyone to protect your business tonight I’m more than willing and will be armed I just need address.”
Khindri said he did not see the message on the night of the shooting, and that when he eventually saw the text, he did not reply to it. Citing interviews Khindri gave last year, Chirafisi challenged Khindri, who at one point seemed to downplay the damage the car dealership businesses had suffered during the rioting.
“One hundred thirty-seven vehicles were burned on your lot, that sound about right?” Chirafisi asked.
“If that’s what it says, I do not know the numbers off the top of my head. I’m sorry,” Khindri responded.
“Two point five million dollars in losses, sound about right?” Chirafisi replied.
“I don’t know, my dad handles the money part of the business,” Khindri said.
“Were you just willing to let your property be damaged on the 25th?” Chirafisi asked.
“After seeing the destruction, there is nothing I could do,” Khindri replied.
Sahil Khindri testified that he drove to Kenosha with his family after police told them their property had been damaged.
He said he did not speak to any of the armed men about protecting their property. But when the defense pulled up a photo of Sahil smiling and posing with the group, Sahil said he asked to take a photo with them because he was impressed by their military equipment and attire.
“For me, that was impressive,” he said.
He said the group informed him they were in town to protect Kenosha from property damage, but he also maintained he did not ask the men to protect his family’s businesses.
CNN’s Raja Razek, Ashley Killough, Eric Levenson, Sara Sidner and Amir Vera contributed to this report.