Front Row at the “American Sniper” Trial – Day 4
The ‘American Sniper’ murder trial resumed this President’s Day with the issue of defendant Eddie Ray Routh’s mental state front and center. Routh is accused of shooting and killing former Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield at a shooting range on Feb. 2, 2013. Defense attorneys have stated that Routh had a long history of mental illness and did not know his actions were wrong.
Monday morning began with testimony from Erath County Sgt. Kenny Phillips who was responsible for the transportation and booking of Routh into the Erath County Jail after he was caught and arrested following a harrowing police chase. Phillips testified that Routh was irritable and angry from the moment he picked him up from the Lancaster Police Station at around 3:00 a.m. the day after the shooting.
“I would’ve called him under the influence,” Phillip recalls, pointing out that Routh has changed a lot in the time he’s been in jail. “He was in a detox situation for a while when he arrived.” This testimony may ultimately be significant as jurors will be asked to determine Routh’s mental state in deciding whether he receives the verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity defense attorneys are asking for.
Ranger Ron Pettigrew, a former narcotics investigator who assisted in handling evidence of the murders of Kyle and Littlefield, then testified regarding the allegation by prosecutors that Routh was high on “wet marijuana.” This term has been used numerous times during the trial, and Pettigrew told jurors that “wet marijuana” is a joint usually dipped in formaldehyde.
The shortest testimony of the day came from Ranger Michael Don Stoner, who assisted in the initial investigation. Stoner took photos and videos of the crime scene and assisted with managing evidence, specifically identifying Routh’s cowboy boots that he personally transported to the crime lab.
Jeff Shaffer, a former Secret Service agent, took the stand next and provided details from the cell phones belonging to Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield. The phone records presented included the time and duration of calls to and from the devices, including multiple exchanges between Kyle and Routh in advance of their meeting on February 2.
Routh also left four voicemails on Kyle’s phone, with one particularly odd message left on January 19, 2013: “Hey man. I’m just give you a shout. I’m gonna come and talk to you. It’s raining out, it’s kind of a sad day when it rains. It’s good, but it’s sad. Rains will come and rains will leave. I guess that’s what they do.”
Phone records also revealed that there were three calls from Taya Kyle to her husband Chris the day of February 2, 2013, and the last two (one at 5:18 and the other at 5:30) were not answered.
Shaffer’s records also confirmed a text message exchange between Kyle and Littlefield that defense attorneys focused specifically on during opening statements as evidence of Routh’s mental state. Kyle had sent Littlefield a message during the hour and forty-five minute drive up to Rough Creek Lodge, with Routh in the back seat, telling his friend “This dude is straight up nuts.” To which Littlefield replied, “He’s right behind me, watch my 6.”
Texas Ranger Danny Briley testified next and was not shy about voicing his opinions about whether Routh knew right from wrong the day of the shooting. Briley was the first Ranger to arrive at the scene the night of Feb 2, 2013, and he was simultaneously involved with investigating the scene of the crime as well as the identification, location, and apprehension of the suspect.
Before sharing footage of his initial interview with Routh following his arrest, he told jurors that he addressed the question of whether or not the defendant knew right from wrong multiple times: “Clearly he knew what he was doing was wrong.”
Prosecutors then played the video of Routh’s initial “confession” interview with police officers following his arrest. The video begins with Routh, almost unrecognizable to the man in the courtroom, sitting in a chair with his hands cuffed behind his back and his head on the table. Routh is wearing blue jeans and a striped t-shirt, the same clothes he later admits he was wearing at the time he shot Kyle and Littlefield.
The interview almost immediately turns into a frightening, nonsensical rant about souls and how society is out to get him, making comments like, “I just can’t keep eating my soul up about this. I still have tons of people eating at my soul I can’t even sleep.” The video was so disturbing that Chris Kyle’s widow Taya Kyle had to run out of the courtroom, unable to watch.
Eventually, Routh tells Briley in the video that he shot Kyle and Littlefield, explaining that “I knew if I did not take down his soul he was going to take mine next.” Routh said he shot Kyle first because he recognized him more, and that he was able to take them down “Because their training wasn’t as good. My training’s better.”
Routh initially denies doing any drugs the day of the shooting, stating “I’ve been running on pure adrenaline for a couple of days now,” but later admits that he smoked marijuana that morning.
Although many of Routh’s comments seem psychotic and out of reason, he clearly acknowledged that he feels badly for his actions. When asked if he wanted to say anything to the families of the victims, Routh replies, “Yeah. I’m just sorry for what I’ve done, and we can work this out.”
On cross-examination defense attorneys pointed to some of the more bizarre and irrational comments made during the interview as evidence that he was in the midst of a psychotic break, Briley stated that while the comments may be strange, in his experience, they seemed more like mechanisms to avoid difficult questions he did not want to answer than evidence of mental illness. Briley insisted that, “He’s talking like what we have learned is ‘Eddie being Eddie’.”
The trial will resume Tuesday morning at 9:00 a.m.
Source: NICOLE COLEMAN, Wild About Trial