Fact checking Kyle Rittenhouse’s testimony in Kenosha murder trial

Stacy St. Clair and Christy Gutowski
Chicago Tribune

Kyle Rittenhouse testified in his own defense for roughly six hours Wednesday as he tried to explain the circumstances that led to him fatally shooting two people and injuring a third.

Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty and says he acted in self-defense when he fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz in August 2020 in Kenosha. At the time, Rittenhouse was 17 and living in Antioch.

Kyle Rittenhouse is sworn in before he testifies at his trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021.

His testimony included some personal information, including details about his education and time with a suburban police cadet program.

It will be up to the jury to decide whether Rittenhouse believed his life was in danger that night and, if so, whether that belief was reasonable. However, he made several statements to the jury that were easily verifiable and spoke to his credibility, given what prosecutors suggest is a penchant for aggrandizing himself and his abilities.

Tribune reporters looked further into his statements, some of which were not exactly as presented.

Testimony: Kyle Rittenhouse said he is a student at Arizona State University

In the opening minutes of his testimony, Rittenhouse told the jury he was a “college student studying nursing at Arizona State University.”

An ASU spokesman, however, said Rittenhouse “has not gone through the admissions process with Arizona State University and is not enrolled in the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation.” Instead, he started a non-degree seeking online program Oct. 13 – less than three weeks before the trial began.

Testimony: Kyle Rittenhouse said he was issued his bulletproof vest by the Grayslake Police Department

On the night of the shootings, Rittenhouse gave his bulletproof vest to a fellow armed guard for protection. When his attorney asked how a 17-year-old had a bulletproof vest in his possession, Rittenhouse said it was “issued to me by the Grayslake Police Department,” where he participated in the youth explorers program.

“You didn’t purchase it?” lead attorney Mark Richards asked.

“No, I did not,” Rittenhouse responded.

In an email to the Tribune, Grayslake Deputy Police Chief Jeff Myhra said his department “has never issued or paid for any protective vests for the cadet program.” Instead, he says, some cadets participate in fundraising events to earn enough money to buy the vests.

“Some Cadets had vests, and others did not …,” Myhra wrote. “Vests were not a required uniform item.”

Testimony: Kyle Rittenhouse said you don’t need to be 21 to have a Firearm Identification License in Illinois

When talking about his decision to keep his AR-15-style assault rifle at his friend’s house in Wisconsin rather than take it home to Antioch, he said it was because Illinois had a backlog on its Firearm Owner’s Identification card application. Assistant district attorney Thomas Binger suggested it was also because cardholders needed to be 21 in Illinois, which Rittenhouse said was untrue.

Rittenhouse is correct.

Although the state requires FOID card applicants to be 21, minors can apply as long as they have a signed affidavit from a parent or legal guardian. The parent or legal guardian does not have to have a FOID Card, but must be eligible for one, according to the Illinois State Police.

Testimony: Kyle Rittenhouse said he didn’t look at social media between the shootings and the time he turned himself in to Antioch Police

On cross-examination, Rittenhouse testified he did not see any social media in the hours after the shooting because his cellphone battery had died. When Binger reminded him he was under oath and asked the question again, Rittenhouse said he couldn’t remember if he did or not.

Public records, however, clearly indicate Rittenhouse was aware that the shootings had gone viral on social media when he turned himself into Antioch police. Shortly after arriving at the station, the teen told Police Officer Courtney Nemec that he had been hit in the head with a skateboard and that “there was a video of him out there on social media getting hit in the head with a skateboard.”

While waiting for Kenosha detectives to arrive, Rittenhouse called his sisters and another conversation took place.

“When they spoke the conversation turned into the family discussing the negative comments about Kyle on social media, which caused Kyle to become upset,” Nemec wrote. “I requested Kyle to stop speaking with his sisters and (friend) as this was causing him to become upset and again made him cry. Kyle continued to talk about him being on social media and then briefly showed me from his phone a picture of him with the AR-rifle at the Kenosha riots from earlier in the evening.”