American Sniper Murder Trial Begins in Texas as Lawyers Clash over Insanity Defense
Eddie Ray Routh pleads not guilty to the shooting deaths of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield
After Routh’s attorneys entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, the two sides faced off in opening statements over whether Routh, 27, understood what he was doing was wrong when he allegedly shot Kyle and Chad Littlefield to death on Feb. 2, 2013, at a shooting range in Texas.
In a courtroom packed with onlookers and journalists, Kyle’s widow, Taya, who began testifying after the opening statements, sat with her eyes closed and hands folded as prosecutor Alan Nash argued that Routh’s conduct before, during and after the shootings showed he knew what he was doing was wrong. Routh “had been smoking dope and drinking” that morning, Nash said, telling the 10-woman, 2-man jury that proving a defendant is not responsible for his action in an insanity plea is “a very narrow path.”
He detailed the killings, saying Littlefield had been shot four times in the back, once in the hand, once in the face and once on top of his head. Kyle was shot five times, four in the back and once in the side of his head. Routh then stole Kyle’s truck.
Defense attorney Tim Moore described Routh’s history of psychiatric problems, saying the ex-Marine suffered from severe mental illness and was treated and released several times by Veterans Affairs hospitals. Doctors had deemed him likely to cause harm to himself or others, Moore added, saying: “When he took their lives, he was in the grip of psychosis so severe he didn’t know what he was doing was wrong.”
Moore also said that Kyle and Littlefield suspected Routh was dangerous. When they were driving to the gun range, Kyle texted Chad: “This dude is straight up nuts,” according to Moore. Littlefield texted back: “He’s right behind me. Watch my 6.” (That’s military jargon for “watch my back.”)
Prosecutors have said they are not seeking the death penalty for Routh. While his attorneys have questioned whether Routh can receive a fair trial despite the popularity of the movie American Sniper, the defense’s appeal to push back the trial was denied earlier this month.
“The film will be an issue,” Routh’s attorney J. Warren St. John told PEOPLE last month.
• Reporting by DARLA ATLAS