STEPHENVILLE, Texas (KXAN) — Over the last week, attorneys in Eddie Routh’s murder trial have worked on finding the 12 best jurors in Erath County who could be impartial, putting aside what they have seen, heard, and read about Chris Kyle and the “American Sniper” story.
But the very first witness told them exactly who he was.
“He was a good shot. He was very good at his job,” said Taya Kyle about her husband whose service and record as a Navy SEAL sniper is now documented in the Oscar nominated film adapted from Kyle’s autobiography.
In a jam-packed courtroom with some media members watching through a feed in an overflow courtroom, Taya told the jury about Chris’s life, military background, and their family. She said he did not want to write the book, but given his number of confirmed kills, someone was going to write the book about him eventually.
“He wanted to be able to give credit to others,” said Taya on the motivation for the book.
At one point during her testimony, Taya said she was not nervous, but her voice was cracking because she was emotional. A few times she wiped away tears, but she mostly talked proudly and confidently about her husband, how he saved people’s lives as a sniper, and his desire to help other veterans once he returned to civilian life after four tours of duty.
She said that is exactly what he was doing on Feb. 2, 2013 when he was killed.
That day their family had attended Saturday morning sports games for their children and Chris had told her his plan to go to the gun range at the Rough Creek Lodge & Resort with friend Chad Littlefield and Routh, a man who had been suffering from mental illness. Routh’s mother worked at the school where the Kyle children attended and asked Chris if he might be able to help.
Taya said the couple hugged, kissed, and told the other “I love you,” before Chris left their home around noon. A few hours later, she called him and testified he was very short with her on the phone.
“He sounded like he was irritated,” said Taya. When she asked if he was OK, he simply said “Yep.” She told the court she felt like Chris could not talk much because of the people around him. A few hours later, Littlefield’s wife called to ask if she had heard from the men.
The jury must answer two questions:
- Did Routh intentionally cause death?
- And when he did so, did he know what he was doing was wrong?
“I texted (Chris) ‘Are you OK? I am getting worried,’” said Taya.
A police officer and friend of the family who often would come by the home later showed up and asked if she had seen her husband’s truck. When she said she had not, the officer told her he believed Chris had been hurt.
From that point on, Taya said she ignored several phone calls and texts because she only wanted to hear from law enforcement. Eventually, the initial officer who told her Chris may have been hurt was the one to tell her he had been killed.
During opening statements, attorneys for both sides said nobody knows what may have been said on the approximately 90-minute drive out to the gun range or in the moments leading up to the shooting. But defense attorney Tim Moore said Kyle texted Littlefield something which will be argued throughout the trial.
“He texts Chad Littlefield, sitting next to him, he text him, ‘This dude is straight-up nuts.’”
Routh pleaded not guilty and his attorneys will seek the insanity defense; trying to prove he did not know right from wrong when he killed the two men. While the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt Routh intentionally committed the murders, the defense must prove with a preponderance of evidence he did not know right from wrong in order to successfully argue insanity.
Moore’s opening statement alluded to multiple trips to psychiatric hospitals and Routh being diagnosed with many possible mental illnesses as a reason why the defendant thought Kyle and Littlefield were trying to kill him and not help him.
“When he took their lives, he was in a grip of psychosis,” Moore told the jury. “In a state of psychosis so severe, he did not know what he was doing was wrong. He thought in his mind that it was either him or them.” He explained recent relief missions to Iraq and Haiti had taken its toll on the ex-Marine.
But Erath County District Attorney Alan Nash said mental illness does not explain nor excuse why Routh shot Littlefield seven times and Kyle six times. The majority of the shots were into both mens’ backs, but each was shot at least once in the head. The men were shot with two different guns according to Nash. Kyle was killed with a .45 handgun and Littlefield was shot with a 9mm. The state said evidence will show Routh had both guns when he was stopped by law enforcement and the 9mm had markings showing it was issued by the Navy to Kyle.
“Mental illnesses, even the ones this defendant may or may not have, do not deprive people of the ability to be good citizens,” said Nash. “To know right from wrong, to obey the law, and at the very least not to murder people.”
Both sides are expected to call several medical professionals to give their opinions on Routh’s mental state.
Through opening statements and testimony, Chris and Chad were referred to as best friends, friends “before the book,” who were going to befriend Routh and spend time doing what friends do.
Although much of the attention on the trial is due to Kyle, the mother of Chad Littlefield testified after Taya Kyle and remembered her quiet son.
“He would say ‘Mom, people think I am shy but I am listening,” testified Judy Littlefield. The mother spoke softly and began to cry when asked to tell the court her son’s birthday.
“February 11th, 1977,” she cried. “He would have been 38 today.”
The last time she ever saw her son was a day before his death. She said he would often drop by her DeSoto home for an hour to have lunch, but this time he stayed for more than two hours and talked about how he felt he was in a good place spiritually and how he wanted to raise his young daughter Morgan.
Then as he always did, he kissed her goodbye and walked out the door. Only this time, he turned, walked back towards her and kissed her a second time.
It was the last time she saw him.
The next night she went to Taya Kyle’s home when she heard something was wrong. A friend met her and said “Chris is gone, we do not know about Chad.”
Littlefield’s ID was in Kyle’s truck; the same truck police say Routh drove from the range. Judy said it was deep into the night when they finally were able to identify her son as the second victim.
After the family members testified, employees at the Rough Creek Lodge took the stand and testified about when the trio arrived at the range and later how Kyle and Littlefield were found lying dead. Graphic crime scene photos were shown before the court while Taya and the rest of the Kyle family remained in the courtroom.
You can review the live tweets from the courtroom on Chris Sadeghi’s Twitter feed.
Beginning of Taya’s testimony, background on the case
Taya told the jury that she moved from Oregon to get away from the cloudy skies and met Kyle when she moved to San Diego. Kyle, a Texas boy through and through, was going through military training at the time they met. Taya spoke about Kyle’s service, his capacity as a Navy SEAL and said he was in a lot of gunfights.
“I am sorry. I am not nervous, just emotional,” Taya apologized to the prosecutor.
Speaking about her husband’s record as a sniper, Taya says he was “a good shot” and “good at his job” — adding that it was a tough job but one that saved lives. Taya says Kyle would put himself at risk — once rescuing reporters — and he even had a Marine die on his chest trying to save him.
When shown a picture of her family, Taya broke down a bit. In the picture, she had just learned she was pregnant with their second child.
Taya also went on to tell stories of life for Kyle after his service, saying he struggled to adapt to civilian life. Kyle’s wife says he drank a little, had trouble sleeping on put some weight.
She also spoke about how Kyle and Littlefield became friends, saying Littlefield clicked with Kyle’s personality.
At the beginning of opening statements, Nash told the jury that Kyle and Littlefield enjoyed helping other veterans, something they had planned to do with Routh.
Nash said during opening statements that Littlefield was shot four times with a 9mm in the back, once in the face and another time in his head. Kyle was shot with a different gun five times in the back and once in the head.
Nash says the .45-caliber pistol was the gun used to kill Kyle, while the 9mm was used to kill Littlefield. Nash says both were found on Routh. The 9mm had markings proving that it was issued by the Navy to Kyle, said Nash. Routh allegedly took Kyle’s gun and truck and told his sister that he had killed two men. Nash says Routh told his sister he planned to escape to Mexico, leading law enforcement on a chase. Nash told the jury they’d hear testimony from doctors about PTSD and mental illnesses but that they’d have to decide if illness keeps people from knowing right from wrong.
Routh’s defense attorney Tim Moore took the floor after Nash’s opening statements, saying Routh took Kyle’s and Littlefield’s lives because he was “in the grip of psychosis.” Moore said in the state of psychosis, Routh felt he had to kill the two men or else the would kill him. Using a whiteboard, the defense attorney ran through Routh’s mental illnesses, saying he struggled with alcohol and marijuana and was admitted to a VA hospital, suicidal. Moore says Routh was also taken to a psychiatric hospital in Dallas and that he had a psychotic episode just two weeks before the killings.
The jury heard how Routh was taken back to a psychiatric hospital when he held people at knifepoint in an apartment. Routh was released from the hospital, even with a mental illness that could hurt others, Moore said. Routh was instructed to stay on medication. Moore said the night before the killings, Routh proposed to his girlfriend, who accepted, but that the next morning a paranoid Routh told her to leave.
After being arrested by Lancaster police, Routh was interviewed by a Texas Ranger. Moore told the jury they would see the interview and Routh’s “psychotic responses.”
“At the time of this tragedy, Eddie Routh was suffering from a mental disease and did not know his conduct was wrong,” said Moore.
The defense attorney said multiple mental experts would testify that they believe Routh was insane at the time of the killings.
The judge has said he would allow prosecutors to take photos of Routh’s tattoos. Meanwhile, the judge ruled he would decide what to allow on a case-by-case basis when it came to documents filed by the prosecution Tuesday outlining “bad acts” and other offenses allegedly committed by Routh. That includes incidents dating back to 2000, including Routh’s alleged expressed interest in killing animals and watching them die, making statements that he “liked to hear them take their last breath.”