Taya Kyle was the first to take the stand for the prosecution on the opening day of the murder trial
The widow of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle – the real-life hero portrayed in the blockbuster film American Sniper – was the first witness to testify against the man charged with the murders of her husband and his friend Chad Littlefield.
Opening statements began in Stephenville, Texas, on Wednesday in the trial of Eddie Ray Routh, the 27-year-old ex-Marine who allegedly killed the two men while they were attempting to help him cope with his PTSD at a Texas shooting range on Feb. 2, 2013.
Prosecutors announced Tuesday that the first two witnesses would be Taya Kyle and Chad Littlefield s mother, Judy, the Associated Press reported.
Taya, wearing a brown dress and heels, entered the courtroom Wednesday morning and politely waved to law enforcement officials. At moments during the opening statements, she sat with her eyes closed and hands folded in her lap.
The mom of two, 40, explained that she was “not nervous, just emotional” as she took the stand at the Erath County Courthouse. She sobbed over family photos admitted into evidence and revealed how Kyle and Littlefield – whom she described as a “hard worker” who “liked a simple life” – became close friends as soccer dads.
“I think in Chris’s life, he was such a kind, humble, easy going and charismatic person. But he also had this skill,” she said of her late husband’s service as a military sniper. “[The skill] may not seem to go with those qualities, but it’s an extension of your heart to be willing to take something on like that. It’s not an easy job.”
She explained that Routh’s mother had worked at the Kyle children’s school and had asked Chris, who often volunteered his time for veterans struggling with PTSD, for help with her son.
When it came to gun safety, Taya said of Chris, “He said the more experienced you are, the more safety-conscious you’re gonna be.” She added that he constantly emphasized such awareness to their children. “Even with the kids and Nerf guns, they weren’t allowed to carry them the way they would a loaded weapon,” she said. “The whole point of that is being in such a habit of doing it that your habit is in being safety-conscious.”
Routh, dressed in a suit, took copious notes during Taya’s testimony, while she appeared to glare at him as she shared her memories of the day of the killings.
Just before they parted ways that busy morning, “we were getting things together,” she said from the stand. “We were both in a hurry. He had gone around the house one way looking for me and I had gone the other way, like a comedy. Eventually we found each other.”
She got teary-eyed when she remembered them saying before they left the house: “We said we loved each other and kissed and hugged like we always did.”
She said she had spoken with her husband while he was at the gun range with Routh and Littlefield and that he sounded uneasy. She recalls texting him, “I’m worried. Are you okay?” and receiving no response.
A little while later, police appeared at the Kyle family home and asked Taya if she had seen Chris’s truck before informing her that he had been killed.
Judy Littlefield also offered emotional testimony about her son, a former football player who was not in the military but “had a passion for veterans. He would have been 38 years old today.
“Chad never talked a whole lot; he’s a fantastic listener,” she said. “He gave people around him the opportunity to be heard.”
She remembered visiting him the day before the murders and discussing his 9-year-old daughter, Morgan. “Chad was a man of faith,” his mother said. “That day he just talked about where he was spiritually and how he wanted his little girl raised. He said, ‘I gotta go brush up on my Bible stories because my little girl knows more than I do.'”
The decision to have Taya and Littlefield’s mother testify early in the trial came largely because the judge ruled that no witnesses can be in the courtroom until after they have testified so they would not be affected by other testimonies, ABC News reported. District Judge Jason Cashon also ruled that Judy and Taya would be permitted to stay in court after testifying to watch the proceedings, according to the AP.
•With reporting by DARLA ATLAS