Case goes to jury in killing of ‘American Sniper’ author Chris Kyle

Case goes to jury in killing of 'American Sniper' author Chris Kyle

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In closing arguments Tuesday at a trial that has drawn national attention to thorny questions surrounding post-traumatic stress, prosecutors and defense attorneys painted drastically different portraits of the veteran on trial for killing “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle.

The trial is being held where the pair were killed, in rural Erath County, about 100 miles southwest of Dallas.

Eddie Ray Routh is charged with two counts of murder and one count of capital murder in connection with the fatal shootings of Kyle, 38, and friend Chad Littlefield, 35, during the trio’s trip to an outdoor shooting range near Stephenville on Feb. 2, 2013.

Routh, 27, confessed to the shootings, but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. If convicted, the former Marine would face life without parole.

Routh declined to testify, but his defense attorneys called half a dozen witnesses Tuesday, including a forensic psychiatrist who described how the troubled veteran was repeatedly hospitalized and medicated at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities for “psychosis” after his honorable discharge in 2010. Routh’s attorneys reminded jurors that after meeting Routh the day of the shootings, Kyle texted Littlefield on the way to the range to say Routh appeared “nuts.”

Standing in front of a board displaying the requirements to prove insanity under state law, defense attorney Tim Moore asked the jury, “Did we prove to you with the credible weight of the evidence that he was insane at the time? Absolutely.”

Moore noted the “delusional gibberish” Routh spouted to investigators after the shooting, calling Kyle and Littlefield “headhunters” who had been planning to kill him and take his soul.

“He killed those men because he had a delusion,” said fellow defense attorney J. Warren St. John, adding, “He believed in his mind that they were going to kill him.”

Earlier in the trial, a forensic psychiatrist testified for the defense that Routh believed that those trying to kill him were hybrid “pig people.”

But prosecutors insisted that from the day of the shootings forward, Routh only pretended to be insane the day of the shootings after he was caught by police while fleeing in the truck he stole from Kyle.

They called more than two dozen witnesses to tell the story of how before the shootings he had exaggerated his military record and post-traumatic stress, drank and used marijuana heavily and threatened to shoot himself and others.

When he fled the range the day of the shootings, drunk and high, Routh stopped to pick up his dog and two burritos at Taco Bell before heading for Oklahoma — proof he was thinking clearly, prosecutors said.

“Crazy don’t run,” said one of the prosecutors, Assistant Atty. Gen. Jane Starnes.

Starnes said the jury would recognize the “preposterous pigman, hybrid-pig story” that Routh later told a psychiatrist to be “a load of hogwash.”

Earlier Tuesday, a ballistics expert testified that the bodies of Littlefield and Kyle were both found with their guns holstered, the safeties on. Littlefield was shot seven times, Kyle six times.

“That is not insanity; that is just cold, calculated, capital murder,” Starnes said.

The jury also heard a recorded conversation Tuesday that Routh had with a New Yorker magazine reporter from jail in which he admitted to the killings, said he was “riled up” and had to “take care of business.”

“His words have no meaning because they change depending on whether he’s talking to a police officer, a reporter or a psychiatrist he needs to convince you to let him off the hook,” Erath County Dist. Atty. Alan Nash said at the end of closing remarks, for which each side was granted an hour.

“He’s gone to the well, the deep well of excuses for his violent behavior, and it’s time for it to stop,” Nash said. “Find him guilty.”

Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle, 40, was the state’s first witness, and returned to the gallery Tuesday, muttering in frustration during defense attorneys’ closing remarks and eventually leaving court before adjournment.

Earlier in the day, she had stayed as prosecutors displayed graphic crime scene photographs days after she had traveled to Los Angeles for the Oscars, where the movie “American Sniper,” based on Kyle’s book, was contending for awards. She carried her late husband’s dog tags on the red carpet.

On Tuesday, closing remarks ended at 6:35 p.m., and the case went to the jury of 10 women and two men. It was not clear how late they would deliberate. If they do not reach a verdict Tuesday, they will be sequestered.

One of Routh’s three defense attorneys gestured to the packed gallery Tuesday, noting the unusually extensive media coverage and public interest. He urged the jurors to ignore the buzz surrounding the case and to base their verdict on the evidence.

“You be steadfast in what you believe,” St. John said. “Do not be swayed in what others want you to do.”

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

Twitter: @mollyhf

2 Comments

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      March 9, 2015 at 10:19 am

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