The man who allegedly killed Chris Kyle, on whose life the Oscar-nominated hit film, American Sniper, is based, is scheduled to stand trial for the crime within the month. If it starts on time, the trial will take place while the record-setting movie, starring Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and directed by Clint Eastwood, continues to earn rave reviews. According to defense attorneys, the publicity surrounding the movie may make a fair trial hard to get.
The accused murderer, ex-Marine Eddie Ray Routh, will face trial for the shooting death of Kyle and Kyle’s friend, 35-year-old Chad Littlefield, which occurred on Feb. 2, 2013 – almost four years after the “American Sniper” had left the military. The two men were assisting Routh, who was 25 at the time of the murders, cope with PTSD. The accused shooter was a Marine corporal who served from 2006 to 2010, including deployments to Iraq and Haiti. At the time of the shootings, he was on reserve duty.
The author of the book American Sniper, on which the movie is based, was shot at point-blank range while at a gun range near Glen Rose, Texas, with Littlefield and Routh. The book, which detailed Kyle’s four deployments in Iraq, his record-setting 150 kills and his many commendations, had made Kyle a household name. According to the director of a nonprofit organization which Kyle helped found, FITCO Cares, the “American Sniper” and Littlefield, who was described as Kyle’s “workout buddy” and neighbor, had taken Routh to the gun range in an attempt to try to help him cope with the aftermath of his military career.
J. Warren St. John, attorney for Routh, told People Magazine that his client plans to plead not guilty due to insanity. Texas prosecutors have said they will not seek the death penalty for the man accused of killing the “American Sniper” and his friend, whose trial is scheduled to commence on Feb. 11. Routh has been in custody since the murders occurred.
The success of the film could pose an issue during the trial in that an impartial jury may be hard to find. St. John says that the publicity surrounding American Sniper will make it difficult to seat a fair jury, adding that he has defended clients in high-profile cases in the past and has found that any case having to do with “significant national attention makes it hard to pick a jury.”
Because of the nationwide media coverage and the “unusually emotional nature” of the case, a gag order was issued in 2013 by a judge. The order prevents those involved with the case, including lawyers, family and others, from speaking with the media about specific details of the case.
George Parnham is the criminal defense attorney who represented notorious mother Andrea Yates after she drowned her five children in a bathtub. Parnham told People that in his opinion, in light of the attention the case has drawn in the media as well as the status of Kyle as “a hero in many people’s eyes,” it will be “very difficult” to seat an impartial jury wherever the trial is located.
In an attempt to lessen the impact of pre-trial publicity, attorneys for Routh requested a change of venue in 2013. The motion was denied.
By Jennifer Pfalz