STEPHENVILLE, Texas — Jurors who rejected an insanity defence and convicted a former Marine in the deaths of famed “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle and his friend said Wednesday the man’s past behaviour undermined his argument that he couldn’t tell right from wrong.
After a two-week trial in which jurors heard testimony about defendant Eddie Ray Routh’s erratic behaviour, including statements about anarchy, the apocalypse and pig-human hybrids, they convicted him Tuesday night in the deaths of Kyle and Chad Littlefield at a Texas shooting range two years ago.
Juror Christina Yeager told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that Routh displayed a similar pattern in prior run-ins with police — he would become intoxicated and then tell responding officers he was a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder. “Every time something bad happened he pulled that card,” Yeager said.
Barrett Hutchinson said jurors were not convinced by the claim that Routh was having a psychotic episode when he shot the men.
“He knew the consequences of pulling the trigger,” Hutchinson said.
Routh showed no reaction as a judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole, an automatic sentence since prosecutors didn’t seek the death penalty in the capital murder case. As one of his victim’s siblings called him an “American disgrace” shortly after, Routh looked back at the man intensely.
The verdict capped an emotional trial in which prosecutors painted the 27-year-old as a troubled drug user who knew right from wrong, despite any mental illnesses. Defence attorneys said he suffered from schizophrenia and was suffering from a psychotic episode at the time of the shootings. Routh’s defence team said they would appeal.
While trial testimony and evidence often included Routh making odd statements and referring to insanity, he also confessed several times, apologized for the crimes and tried to evade police after the crime.
“You took the lives of two heroes, men who tried to be a friend to you,” Chad Littlefield’s half brother Jerry Richardson told Routh after the verdict. “And you became an American disgrace.”
Routh’s trial drew intense interest, in part because of the blockbuster film based on former Navy SEAL Kyle’s memoir about his four tours in Iraq. Warner Bros., the studio that produced the film, declined to comment on the verdict.
Jurors had three options: find Routh guilty of capital murder, find him not guilty, or find him not guilty by reason of insanity. If found not guilty by reason of insanity, the court could have initiated proceedings to have him committed to a state mental hospital.
“We’re so thrilled that we have the verdict that we have tonight,” Littlefield’s mother, Judy Littlefield, said outside the courthouse.
The Littlefield family had waited “two years for God to get justice for us,” she said. “He was faithful.”
Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle, left the courtroom during the defence’s closing statements earlier in the day and did not return when the verdict was read. Chris Kyle’s brother and parents were among a group hugging and crying inside the courtroom after the verdict was read. They did not issue a statement.
Richardson and Littlefield’s father, Don Littlefield, were the only two people to give statements in court. Don Littlefield told Routh that even though his son never served in the military, he was honoured to help those who did. “He was trying to help you,” he told Routh.
Kyle and Littlefield had taken Routh to the shooting range at Rough Creek Lodge and Resort on Feb. 2, 2013, after Routh’s mother asked Kyle to help her troubled son. Family members say Routh suffered from PTSD from serving in Iraq and in Haiti after a devastating 2010 earthquake.
Richardson told Routh his PTSD claims “have been an insult to every veteran who served with honour.”
Routh’s mother, Jodi Routh, who was questioned by prosecutors about why she didn’t warn Kyle of her son’s mental troubles, sat expressionless in the courtroom as the verdict was read.
A forensic psychologist testified for prosecutors that Routh was not legally insane and suggested he may have gotten some of his ideas from television. Dr. Randall Price said Routh had a paranoid disorder made worse by his use of alcohol and marijuana, calling his condition “cannabis-induced psychosis.”
Defence attorneys noted that Kyle had described Routh as “straight-up nuts” in a text message to Littlefield as they drove to the luxury resort. They said Routh, who had been prescribed anti-psychotic medication often used for schizophrenia, believed the men planned to kill him.
Asked by a reporter for The New Yorker magazine in a jailhouse call if he thought about the day he shot the men, Routh replied, “It tore my (expletive) heart out when I did it,” later adding, “I guess you live and you learn, you know.”
A resort employee discovered the bodies of Kyle and Littlefield about 5 p.m. that day. About 45 minutes later, authorities say Routh pulled up to his sister’s home in Kyle’s truck and told her he had killed two people.
She called police, who later located Routh sitting in front of his home in the truck. A police video showed officers trying to coax him from the truck.
“He told us he’d taken a couple of souls and he had more souls to take,” Lancaster police Lt. Michael Smith testified.