Front Row at the “American Sniper” Trial – Day 1
Opening statements in the ‘American Sniper’ murder trial began today at 9 a.m. in Stephenville, Texas. Former U.S. Marine, Eddie Ray Routh, is charged with the murders of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield at a shooting range on February 2, 2013. Kyle is the subject of the blockbuster film that has already made over $300 million and remains in theaters even in the small town where the trial is taking place. Routh’s attorneys have stated they will seek a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict.
In the state of Texas, to find someone not guilty by reason of insanity a jury has to determine that the accused killer did not know the difference between right or wrong at the time of the crime. The trial began with Prosecutors detailing the facts of the murders and telling the jury that Routh was aware that his actions were wrong, explaining “Mental illnesses, including what the defendant may or may not have had, does not mean they can’t be a good citizen.” The defense responded strongly by explaining that Routh was in a complete psychosis at the time and unable to determine right from wrong.
Following opening statements, the prosecution spent more than a full court day introducing their case in chief. The first series of witnesses, primarily law enforcement officers, first responders, and close family, were called to establish prosecutions first charge that Routh “intentionally” caused the deaths of both Kyle and Littlefield by use of a firearm. Testimony was limited to the facts of February 2, 2013, and did not venture very far into the logistics of mental illness which is a subject that we can assume will be heavily discussed in the days to come.
The widow of Chris Kyle, portrayed by Sienna Miller in the blockbuster film. She was one of the most highly anticipated witnesses called by the State and, as expected, her testimony was heart wrenching. She gave an intimate look at the man the “American Sniper” was behind closed doors. Taya made it clear that her husband did experience some troubles adjusting to civilian life after his days as the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, would often times seem irritable, wake up in night sweats, and had the habit of drinking 3-4 drinks after work (which was uncharacteristic for Chris). Kyle felt relief from these symptoms with exercise, and it quickly became a healthy outlet for him. According to Taya, this is what initially sparked a friendship between Chris and Chad Littlefield, who became good friends through their daughters (who are in the same grade in school). Chris and Chad quickly connected, and although Littlefield himself never served in the U.S. military, he would sometimes accompany Kyle to work with veterans struggling with PTSD, physical deformities, or other negative effects of war. According to his wife, Kyle believed that getting outdoors was the best way to heal, so he would often take struggling veterans out to a shooting range so they could be in nature and talk to someone who understands what they are going through.
Enter Eddie Ray Routh. His mother Jodi asked Taya if her husband would meet with Eddie, as he was experiencing severe PTSD and other mental problems after he returned from the service. Chris agreed and made plans on that fateful day to go shooting with a fellow veteran. In her testimony, Taya expressed that she could tell that something wasn’t right when she called her husband while he was out at the range that day. To her, he seemed very short and irritated, which was an uncommon response from Chris.
Later that night, Taya received the news that her husband, along with Chad Littlefield, had been shot and killed at the Rough Creek Lodge. There was a palpable surge of emotion through the courtroom as a grief-stricken Kaya described her husband’s final days, all the while forced to sit directly across from the man that allegedly killed her husband. Routh seemed to hold his head down throughout her testimony, rarely glancing up at Taya as she poured her heart out on the stand.
As Taya stepped down from the stand she shared an emotional moment and extended hug with Judy Littlefield, mother of Chad Littlefield, before the bereaved mother took Taya’s place on the stand. Judy sat down and immediately turned to the jury, “Hi I’m Judy Littlefield, Chad was my son,” she says with teary eyes, explaining that today would have been Chad’s 38th birthday. Judy described Chad as the ideal son, caring and attentive. He was humble, quiet, religious and soft spoken. She recalled a story of Chad when they were at a family reunion. Chad was telling his mother facts about one of their relatives and when she asked how he knew so much he replied, “Mom, people think I’m shy. But I’m really listening.” Judy’s testimony generated a visibly sympathetic reaction from most if not all of the observers in the courtroom.
Frank Alvarez took the stand next. He is the resident manager at Rough Creek Lodge, where the incident took place. Alvarez met Kyle in 2011 when he came to the property with his company. Unaware of his military history at first, Alvarez and Kyle became fast acquaintances and Kyle ended up designing the entire long shot range on the property. Alvarez recalls Kyle using the range often, bringing other veterans with him from time to time. The prosecutors seemed to want to focus heavily on the topography of the Rough Creek Lodge property, asking him to describe every entrance, road, and structure that might be related to the incident. Alvarez explains that February 2 was a day that seemed not unlike many others, greeting Kyle around 3:15 p.m. at which time Kyle told him he would only be staying for about 45 minutes. Around 5:00 p.m. Alvarez recalls getting a radio call that something had happened and he quickly arrived on the scene.
Alvarez was asked to identify 38 photos taken at the scene of the crime that seemed to get more gruesome with each graphic image. Alvarez confirmed that these photos were in fact of the deceased bodies of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield and accurately depicted what was found that day. Expectedly, the morbid photos caused a strong reaction. Taya Kyle sat shaking her head at the photos while Routh seemed able to bear them, unafraid to look up at the monitor as they were being shown.
Witnesses and Law Enforcement:
Following the testimony of Taya Kyle, Judy Littlefield, and Frank Alvarez, 6 other witnesses were called to the stand. Justin Nabors was working at the Rough Creek Lodge at the time of the incident. He was hired as a part time wildlife guide, and found the bodies of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield when he took a guest and his son by the range with the hope of introducing them to Kyle. Nables stayed at the scene of the crime until Alvarez and public officials arrived, describing that there was an assortment of rifles on the platform along with the apparently lifeless bodies of Kyle and Littlefield.
Lieutenant Bobby Epps, the fifth witness called to the stand, responded to the scene with Matt Green of the Somerville Fire Department, the sixth witness called to testify. They both described the two victims as unresponsive when they arrived on the scene, and after a few tests determined that both men were deceased. Deputy Keith Martin, the sixth witness, described a similar scene when he was called to the Rough Creek Lodge and found the bodies of Kyle and Littlefield. According to his testimony he did his best to preserve the scene.
The final two witnesses Wednesday were Raleigh Parrish and Chet Kelley. Parrish was the 911 dispatcher who received a call the evening of February 2, 2013 from Routh’s sister. Routh had just arrived to her house after leaving Rough Creek Lodge in the black truck belonging to Chris Kyle, and reportedly told her and her husband that he had just killed two men. Routh’s sister called the police in a panic, and jury heard the entire recording of that call. “He’s fucking psychotic!” she says, before handing her husband the phone.
Chet Kelley, a childhood friend of Littlefield, provided the final testimony of the day. When he heard that Chad may be in trouble he called Chad’s cell phone. Chet testified that someone else answered the phone and a man said, “This isn’t Chad. It’s Eddie.” Unsure of the severity of the situation at the time, Chet assumed that he called the wrong number and hung up.
Trial will resume at 9am local time at the Erath County Courthouse in Stephenville, Texas. I will be in the courtroom providing gavel to gavel updates throughout the Trial and you can follow me on Twitter @WildAboutTrial3.
Need to catch up? Watch every second of Wednesday’s opening statements at Wild About Trial.
Source: NICOLE COLEMAN, Wild About Trial