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Opening arguments begin in murder trial of Kyle Rittenhouse

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Opening statements began today in the case of Kyle Rittenhouse. Eighteen-year-old Rittenhouse is on trial for the killing of two people and for injuring a third during an arrest in Kenosha, Wis., last year. In court, the prosecution and defense attorneys painted competing pictures of the chaotic night that ended in tragedy.

Corrinne Hess of Wisconsin Public Radio reports.

CORRINNE HESS, BYLINE: A jury pool of 11 women and nine men were chosen in just one day in this high-profile case. Of the 20 people selected, there's only one person of color. During jury selection, dozens of people asked to be excluded, saying they were afraid to serve and didn't want to have arguments with friends or family.

In his 33-minute opening statement today, Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger painted a picture of chaos in the days following the police shooting of Black resident Jacob Blake. Binger says Kenosha residents were rightly upset over the Blake shooting. But then outsiders came to town.

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THOMAS BINGER: But like moths to a flame, tourists from outside of our community were drawn to chaos here in Kenosha.

HESS: Binger says evidence over the next two weeks will show then 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse set out to protect a local business but later ventured into the crowd and walked among protesters. That evidence will include a video from an FBI helicopter showing Rittenhouse chasing Joseph Rosenbaum. Binger says, as Rosenbaum was bent over, Rittenhouse shot him in the back, killing him.

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BINGER: The same loud noises, the same gunfire, the same arson, the same tear gas, the same hostile confrontations with people who believed the opposite of them - and yet, out of these hundreds of people, only one person killed anyone that night.

HESS: In his opening statement, defense attorney Mark Richards used about 40 videos and photos to claim that Rittenhouse was using self-defense when he shot and killed Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and shot Gaige Grosskreutz. These include pictures of Rittenhouse being kicked and then hit in the head by Huber's skateboard. Richards says Rittenhouse has not denied the killings.

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MARK RICHARDS: If there was trouble that night, Joseph Rosenbaum was there. And that's ultimately who visited himself upon Kyle Rittenhouse. And the other individuals who didn't see that shooting attacked him in the street like an animal.

HESS: Craig Mastantuono teaches law at Marquette University. He says the pretrial publicity and social media posts claiming Rittenhouse was engaging in self-defense will make this case more difficult for the state.

CRAIG MASTANTUONO: And I think the prosecution did a fairly decent job of putting some context to it by drawing a contrast between Mr. Rittenhouse and everyone else at these events and saying repeatedly he was the only one who killed people.

HESS: Proving Kyle Rittenhouse is guilty of homicide is the prosecution's challenge. Judge Bruce Schroeder says he expects the trial to last about two weeks.

For NPR News, I'm Corrinne Hess in Kenosha.

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