Nathan Kivi criminal defendant at trial

Nathan Kivi listens during his homicide trial in Kenosha County Circuit Court stemming from a November 2017 double fatal shooting outside a Twin Lakes tavern. (Photo by Sean Krajacic/Kenosha News)

KENOSHA — Nathan Kivi testified that he felt he had no choice but to shoot two brothers outside a Twin Lakes tavern.

“There were two people running at me, and I had no time to think about it. All I could do is react,” Kivi said.

Kivi, 26, is charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide for the November 2017 shooting deaths of Kenneth and Richard Samuel outside the Beach Bar in Twin Lakes.

On April 12, when he took the stand to testify in his own defense, Kivi readily admitted that he shot and killed the Samuels, saying he did so in self-defense.

During the weeklong trial, witnesses described Kivi first firing a handgun in the air after a verbal dispute outside the tavern at about 2 a.m. as people left the tavern at closing time. Witnesses described Kivi stepping out of his pickup and firing the handgun, then beginning to drive out of the parking lot. Just before he turned onto the road to leave, a bottle thrown by someone in the parking lot shattered the rear window of Kivi’s truck. He slammed on the brakes and got out.

There is no evidence the Samuel brothers touched Kivi, or even exchanged words with him. None of the witnesses testified the brothers were involved in the earlier verbal dispute outside the tavern. One witness testified she saw one of the brothers throw a bottle at Kivi’s truck as he drove through the parking lot, and testified they were running slowly across the lot.

A passenger in Kivi’s truck — David McIsaac, who described himself as Kivi’s best friend at the time — testified that he tried to stop Kivi from grabbing his gun. McIsaac described trying to hold down the center console in the truck to keep Kivi away from the handgun; McIsaac said that he ran away on foot when Kivi was able to overpower him and get his hand on the weapon.

In his own testimony, Kivi said that never happened.

Instead, Kivi said, McIsaac fled as soon as the window shattered, leaving him alone.

“Of course I was scared, confused, of course angry, because my window got smashed,” Kivi testified.

When he got out of the truck, he said, he saw two people running toward him. Although there was a streetlight nearby, he said it was so dark he could only see dark shapes moving toward him.

“I couldn’t even see what color the clothes were or if they had a weapon,” he said. “They were both very, very large people.”

Kivi said he thought the two men wanted to kill him.

“There’s no other way I could see someone looking at someone with a fully-loaded weapon (and running toward them),” Kivi said. “That’s the only thing I could think, that they were going to kill me.

“I didn’t really aim; I just kind of shot.”

Prosecutors have alleged Kivi — who admitted he was intoxicated — was angry about the broken window and shot the Samuels brothers in a rage.

During cross examination, District Attorney Michael Graveley asked Kivi why — if he thought he was defending himself — he never mentioned that during multiple phone conversations and text messages with friends and family after the shootings, or in his interviews with police.

“Isn’t it true that you never said the phrase ‘self-defense’ until people began to suggest to you that self-defense was a way to fight this case?” Graveley asked

“I don’t believe anything was ever suggested to me at all,” Kivi said.

Asked why, if he was defending himself, Kivi chose to flee rather than to report the shooting to police, Kivi said: “I had been in trouble before. I didn’t trust the police to get it right.”

Kivi has been in trouble before. The defense stipulated that he has been convicted of crimes 10 times in the past. He is currently serving a prison term for a series of burglaries after his probation was revoked because of the shootings, and had previously served prison time for burglary. In addition to the burglaries, he has convictions for disorderly conduct and criminal damage and has been charged with felony domestic violence twice with two different alleged victims.

And while Kivi said he was frightened by the conflict in the parking lot, saying that other men in the conflict were bigger than him, he also said during cross-examination that he had trained for years as a mixed martial arts fighter and had competed in cage fighting.

Kivi also admitted during cross-examination that, as a convicted felon, he knew he was committing a crime by carrying a gun. Kivi was also out on bond for a felony domestic violence charge at the time of the killings, and one of his bond conditions was that he was not allowed to have a weapon. Still, he said during questioning, he had two guns and usually kept one with him.

“You deliberately chose to ignore the judge’s order?” Graveley asked.

“I believe in my constitutional right to bear arms, and I don’t believe that a felony can take that away from me,” Kivi said.

Graveley also alleged that Kivi appeared to have been bragging about killing the Samuel brothers in conversations recorded since he has been in jail or prison.

According to Graveley, in one conversation with someone while he was incarcerated, Kivi said he was going to be “a legend because he beat two bodies in Kenosha County.”

“You’ve said that a couple of times,” Graveley said.

The prosecutor added, “You also told your sister you were kind of a celebrity.”

Kivi said he was saying those things as a joke.

Graveley said Kivi signed a message to a friend “your everyday alleged killer Nathan Kivi.”

“Pretty funny stuff, you killing two people,” Graveley said. “Should anybody be finding humor in you being a killer?”

“Alleged,” Kivi said.

The trial was scheduled to resume April 15. Both the prosecution and defense have presented all of their witnesses. Attorneys will make their closing arguments, and then the case will go to the jury.