In a case where movie magic collides with the harsh realities veterans face when they return from war zones, a Texas veteran stands accused of murdering the “American Sniper” depicted in the hit film and New York Times bestselling memoir. Eddie Ray Routh is charged with the homicide of Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL who inspired the Oscar-nominated film, and Chad Littlefield, at a shooting range in rural Texas.
In Texas, where service members are the ultimate hometown heroes and nearly everyone knows someone who returned from war with trauma, the issues in this case will hit very close to home. Routh is expected to raise an insanity defense, claiming that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following his military service with the Marines. Kyle and Littlefield were, in fact, trying to help Routh as part of the charitable work they undertook to help wounded warriors transition into civilian life when Routh allegedly shot and killed both men.
Eddie Ray Routh is charged with one count of capital murder and two charges of murder. Prosecutors have chosen not to seek the death penalty if convicted, but have asked that he be given life without the possibility of parole. Routh’s attorneys have filed a notice of intent to pursue an insanity defense.
The movie “American Sniper,” about former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, is playing three miles away from the courthouse where Eddie Ray Routh, the man who stands accused of killing Kyle, will be on trial.
Routh is charged with killing Kyle and Chad Littlefield at a shooting range in Erath County, a rural area some 100 miles southwest of Dallas, where members of the military and veterans are hometown heroes, perhaps none more so than Chris Kyle, whose memorial was held at the 40-yard-line of Cowboys Stadium, whose book is a New York Times bestseller and who inspired a Clint Eastwood movie that was nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards.
The prosecution will argue that Kyle and Littlefield took Routh to the Rough Creek Lodge and resort, an upscale shooting range outside of Stephenville, Texas. Routh allegedly shot both Kyle and Littlefield to death at the range before driving off in Kyle’s pickup truck. The prosecution will almost certainly introduce into evidence a 911 call from Routh’s sister, who says that Routh confessed the killings to her in a frantic, “psychotic” phone call.
The defense, meanwhile, is tasked with arguing an insanity defense for Routh, who they will allege was in and out of psychiatric facilities for the five months prior to the shooting of Kyle and Littlefield, and who was threatening suicide both before and after the killings. They will almost certainly address the issue of military-related post-traumatic stress disorder and the violence associated with that syndrome.
In fact, evidence may be presented the Kyle and Littlefield took Routh to the shooting range that day in an attempt to help him work through post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from Routh’s military service. Kyle often worked with wounded veterans and believed that bringing them to the range could have a therapeutic, relaxing effect on people who have seen combat. Routh served in the Marines as a small arms repairman and technician in Iraq, and then in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.
Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty in this case, possibly because of the mental health issues surrounding Routh. If convicted, he will be sentenced with life without parole.
Jury neutrality is among the big issues facing the defense in this case. The enormous popularity of the blockbuster film and the New York Times bestselling book “American Sniper,” celebrating former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, may be an insurmountable hurdle for defense attorneys. They will be charged with the difficult task of trying to explain to a jury how post-traumatic stress disorder can negate criminal intent to a group of people who likely consider Kyle a hometown hero. The judge has denied the defense’s requests for a change of venue, admonishing the jury to “stay away from” media reports on the trial.
The jury is comprised of ten women and two men, two alternates, one man and one woman. Opening arguments begin February 11, 2015.
Chris Kyle, 38: Former Navy SEAL sniper whose memoir was made into the blockbuster film “American Sniper” that is still currently in theaters as the trial for his alleged begins. Kyle has been referred to as the “most lethal sniper in U.S. military history” with 160 confirmed kills. He has received numerous medals and commendations including two Silver Star Medals, five Bronze Star Medals, one Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals. He was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy in 2009. He was shot and killed along with friend Chad Littlefield on Feb.2, 2013, at the Rough Creek Lodge shooting range near Chalk Mountain, Texas. His celebrity has grown even larger in death as the success of the “American Sniper” movie based on his life and the media attention surrounding the murder trial of his killer have converged. His memorial service was held at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. As portrayed in the movie, his coffin was draped with the American flag and rested on the giant blue star at the 50-yard line. He was buried in Austin at the Texas State Cemetery, alongside former Texas governors and senators. Kyle is survived by a wife and two children..
Chad Littlefield, 35: Friend Chris Kyle who was also shot and killed at Rough Creek Lodge. Eddie Ray Routh is charges with his murder as well. Littlefield is described as a neighbor and “workout buddy” of Kyle. According to a story in the New Yorker Magazine the two men met on the sideline of a youth soccer game and became friends. They had reportedly been on similar trips together “dozens of times” to help other veterans. Littlefield never served in the military himself. He worked as a facilities and logistics manager at a lab in DeSoto, Texas. He is survived by a wife and daughter.
Eddie Ray Routh, 25: The young Iraqi veteran from Lancaster, Texas, charged with the murders of former Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle and his friend, Chad Littlefield. Routh was a corporal in the Marines, serving on active duty from 2006 to 2010. He was deployed to Iraq in 2007 and Haiti in 2010. According to the U.S. military his duty status was listed as reserve at the time of the shooting. According to authorities it is unclear what his motive was for the shootings, although he reportedly told authorities in the months leading up to the shooting that he suffered from PTSD. Routh’s attorneys have filed a notice of intent to pursue an insanity defense.
Jodi Routh: Mother of Eddie Ray Routh. She reportedly met Kyle at the school where she serves as an aide. Having heard about Kyle’s work with wounded veterans she asked if her could help her son who was struggling with PTSD and alcohol abuse. Kyle and Littlefield picked up Routh from his home on Feb.2, 2013, the morning of the shooting. This appears to be the first time the men had met.
Travis Cox: Director of nonprofit Kyle helped found. According to the AP Cox said that Kyle had taken Routh to the range to try and help him work through his PTSD.
Sheriff Tommy Brant: Likely witness in the case. He gave statements to the media shortly after the shootings.
Danny L. Briley: Texas Ranger. Routh reportedly told him that he was struggling with unnamed forces “eating at his soul,” and rambled at times about pigs and “talking to the wolf, the one in the sky.” Briley is expected to be a witness in the case.
Taya Kyle: Wife of Chris Kyle. She was featured prominently in the movie “American Sniper” and portrayed by actress Sienna Miller.
Jury: A final jury of 10 Women, 2 Men, and 2 Alternates (1 Woman, 1 Man) was sat on Feb.9, 2015. The initial juror pool was reportedly around 800 people.
Warren St. John: Defense attorney for Eddie Ray Routh.
Tim Moore: Defense attorney for Eddie Ray Routh.
Judge Jason Cashon: Erath County District Court Judge presiding over the murder trial of Eddie Ray Routh.
Gov. Greg Abbott: The 48th and current Governor of the State of Texas. On Feb.2, 2105, the second anniversary of Kyle’s death, Gov. Abbott signed an official proclamation declaring Feb.2 “Chris Kyle Day” in the State of Texas. This proclamation was signed just days before jury selection began in the murder trial for Kyle’s alleged killer Eddie Ray Routh.
Invoking an insanity defense in Texas is a tricky business. Texas has one of the most difficult insanity standards for a criminal defendant to attempt to prove. The defendant must show that, due to mental illness, he did not understand that his actions were wrong by society’s standards. Basically, this is the space alien test: Did the defendant believe he was killing a hostile space alien, not an innocent human being? Then he is not guilty by reason of insanity. It is a very high burden for the defense to meet, and a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis alone may not make the cut.
If Routh does in fact use an insanity defense in his case, the jury will determine his sanity. Even if he is found to be insane, he can still be committed to a psychiatric institution.
Routh’s attorneys may instead choose to argue that Routh’s actions were mitigated by diminished capacity, that is, he did not have the criminal intent to kill Kyle and Littlefield. If the jury found that argument compelling, they might return with a lesser verdict, such as manslaughter instead of murder.