After an intense round of closing arguments that at one point caused Chris Kyle‘s widow, Taya, to storm out of the courtroom, her husband’s killer, Eddie Ray Routh, was found guilty of capital murder on Tuesday night. He received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Routh shot Kyle, the real-life hero behind the blockbuster movie American Sniper, and his friend Chad Littlefield at a Texas gun range on Feb. 2, 2013. After the verdict was read at about 9:15 p.m. Central Standard Time, Littlefield’s stepbrother Jerry Richardson read a statement to Routh in court.
“Because of you and your irresponsible choices, we lost a great son, brother, father and uncle on Feb. 2, 2013,” he said. “And that will never change. Those are traits you’ll never experience, because you took the lives of two heroes – men who tried to be a friend to you. And you became an American disgrace.”
In tears, Littlefield’s mother, Judy, told the media that that they’d “waited two years for God to get justice for us on behalf of our son. We’re so thankful we have the verdict that we have tonight.”
During closing arguments, Taya Kyle could be seen with her eyes closed as she listened. As the defense team argued its case, at one point Taya sat with her feet up on the chair and her head in her hands. She then suddenly stood and walked out of the courtroom, slapping the door with her hand as she left.
The verdict came after two weeks of emotional, sometimes bizarre testimonial statements about Routh’s lifestyle, his mental-hospital stays and his volatile behavior. In the end, what it came down to was one question, as defense attorney Tim Moore said in his closing arguments: “What was going on in Eddie’s mind when he shot those two guys?”
Assistant Attorney General Jane Starnes argued that what was going through his mind was “deliberate, it was calculating and it was cold.” Noting that both men were shot in the back at least six times each, she described how Littlefield shielded his face before getting shot two more times.
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“This was not to prevent him from getting up, but to finish him off,” she said. “He didn’t want Chad dead. He wanted Chad dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead. And he wanted the same for Chris.”
His lawyers described the former Marine as a “troubled veteran” who has schizophrenia, which worsened over time.
“He didn’t kill these men because of who he wanted to be; he killed those men because he had a delusion,” argued defense attorney J. Warren St. John. “He believed in his mind that they were going to kill him.”
But District Attorney Alan Nash, noting Routh’s pattern of ending up in psychiatric hospitals following an incident, said that “it’s time for his deep well of excuses for violent criminal behavior to come to an end.”
A History of Treatment in Psychiatric Hospitals
After Routh was discharged from the military in 2010, he ended up in psychiatric hospitals several times, once for threatening to kill himself and his family during a September 2012 fish fry.
By that time, Chris Kyle’s memoir, American Sniper, had become a New York Times best seller after being published in January 2012. In it, Kyle recounted how his four tours of duty as a Navy SEAL earned him a reputation as the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history. In late 2014, his life story was turned into a critically acclaimed movie of the same name that starred Bradley Cooper and was directed by Clint Eastwood.
Before the verdict was read on Tuesday night, jurors heard more details about exactly what happened at the Rough Creek Lodge shooting range on Feb. 2, 2013.
“They made it their mission in life to be friends with other men,” Starnes said of Kyle and Littlefield. “And that’s what ultimately cost them their lives. It caused them to override any kind of sense of self-preservation.”
Yes, prosecutors said, Kyle and Littlefield had texted to each other on the drive over that “this dude is straight-up nuts.” But, as Starnes pointed out, his behavior “wasn’t so alarming that they didn’t put a loaded gun in Eddie Routh’s hand.”
Afterward, Kyle and Littlefield were standing in close quarters on the deck with Routh between them.
Routh took his loaded gun, pointed it at Littlefield’s back and shot him twice. Littlefield fell to the ground and then rolled onto his back. Still alive, his hand grazed through a puddle of his own blood.
Routh then turned his gun on Kyle and shot him in the back and up the right side of his body six times.
It was then that Routh noticed Littlefield “convulsing,” the prosecution argued, and shot him twice from his standing position through the head.
Kyle’s injuries were “very linear in shape but confined,” said forensic crime expert Howard Ryan during his testimony. “The only times we see that is when something has happened quickly and very decidedly.
“Given the skill set of Mr. Kyle, if he’s forced with a confrontation, he’s going to defend himself,” Ryan added. “It’s very obvious that he never saw it coming.”