Front Row At The “American Sniper” Trial – Day 6
The defense in the “American Sniper” murder trial had their first full day of testimony Wednesday during which close family and friends detailed the negative changes they saw in the defendant after he returned home from the military in 2010. Defense attorneys are trying to show that Eddie Ray Routh, the veteran accused of killing Chad Littlefield and former Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, was in a psychotic state the day of the shooting and did not know his actions were wrong.
Texas has a very narrow definition of what makes a person legally insane. It is not sufficient to show that Routh suffered from severe mental illness at the time the crime was committed, or that he had been hospitalized in a psychiatric ward several time. They need to show specifically the defendant’s state of mind in proving that he was unable to know right from wrong in order to obtain a verdict of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. This appears to be an uphill battle after hearing almost five full days of prosecution testimony, including multiple statements, and both audio and video recordings that show Routh admitting he felt badly for his actions that day.
Tuesday afternoon concluded with powerful testimony from Routh’s mother, Jodi, describing her son’s struggle adjusting to life after the military. Wednesday morning followed the same theme with testimony from close family friend Donna Taylor who remembers Eddie as a sweet and kind young boy in high school, before he changed. After he returned home from deployment she recalls, “He just seemed distant, he seemed disturbed. Not like the fun loving Eddie. He just seemed bothered.” Taylor also employed Eddie at her custom cabinets shop on Sept. 7, 2012, where she says that he, “Did a really good job, [was] really attentive.” Although Routh was a hard worker, she recalls that he would sometimes come into the shop in what she describes as a “catatonic” state, where he would just stare off into space. Taylor said that she had smoked pot with Routh on occasion but did not know if he was smoking pot before or during his shifts, and wouldn’t tolerate that liability.
The drug issue is potentially very problematic for defense counsel. Four of the five close family and friends to testify so far have all admitted that they smoked marijuana with Routh on occasion. Prosecutors have argued that the defendant’s erratic behavior was due to substance abuse rather than mental illness. However, Routh’s sister, Laura Blevins, claims that smoking marijuana only made Eddie more relaxed.
Laura described the pain of watching the man she once knew as her fun-loving little brother change into someone completely unrecognizable. She says he would often say things completely out of the blue, zone off, or even have breakdowns in which he was suicidal. Her breaking point was when, at a fish-fry dinner with family and friends, Eddie got so angry that he threatened to kill himself and his entire family.
According to her testimony, this frightening behavior was the reason Blevins didn’t want to let her brother inside her house when he called unexpectedly the afternoon of Feb. 2, 2013 asking if he could come over. She let him in after her husband insisted, and recalls that immediately she could tell something was clearly off, as he started talking about “pigs” and his “soul”. When the three of them sat down at their dining room table, he said that he killed two people, explaining that, “He took their souls before they could take his.” He insisted that they were out to “get him”, and that he “sold his soul for a pickup.” Frightened, Blevins told her brother that he had to turn himself in or leave the house, so and Routh responded that he was going to flee to Oklahoma.
As he was getting in the black pickup truck she knew he couldn’t have bought himself, she told him, “I love you, but I hate your demons,” remembering in a very emotional moment on the stand that, for a moment, she looked into his eyes and saw her little brother that needed her, before snapping right back into that unrecognizable person.
Laura’s husband, Gaines Blevins, also recalled the events at his house the day of the shooting. Gaines says that the hair on the back of his neck stood up when Routh walked into their home and said, “Is it just me, or is the world freezing over?” He remembers Eddie babbling incoherent things he couldn’t understand, before saying that “he took two souls today before they could take his.” Although Gaines didn’t exactly know what Routh meant by these statements, he said he had a sick feeling.
“He seemed confused, like he didn’t know what was going on. He actually said he didn’t know what he should do,” Gaines said on the stand.
After about fifteen minutes in their home Routh told them that he still had the guns he used to kill two men in the truck outside, and offered to show them. At this point Gaines told his troubled brother-in-law that he should leave.
The final witness to take the stand Wednesday was Routh’s girlfriend at the time of the incident, Jennifer Weed. Weed says that she and Routh met in March, 2012 in an online chatroom and started exclusively dating that May. She described Routh as being goofy and sweet, and didn’t start to talk about his experience in the Marines until later in the relationship.
Jennifer Weed recalled the night of January 18, when “out of the blue” Routh started calling her names and telling her that he was going to die that night. She insisted that he go to sleep and the next morning it seemed to her that Routh was in better spirits. That is until she was waiting to drive him to an appointment with his attorney to discuss a DUI charge and she observed him sitting on the couch shaking and sweating through his shirt. He proceeded to pick up one of the decorative ninja swords that Weed had at the front door of her apartment, saying that her and her roommate needed to stay inside because people were out to get them. He then took a knife from the kitchen, and wouldn’t let Weed and her roommate leave, believing that he was protecting them from someone trying to hurt them. Her roommate texted the police who arrived shortly thereafter and Routh was hospitalized for his psychotic behavior. Weed claims Routh didn’t have any recollection of the event when she went to visit him. He was released shortly thereafter over his mother’s objections, which she testified to Tuesday.
Although smoking marijuana never made Routh get aggressive or out of control, according to Weed, she didn’t like the fact that he was a regular user and he promised her he would stop. The night before the horrific shooting Weed told jurors that they had a large fight after she arrived at his house in Lancaster and found him smoking marijuana. Weed acknowledged that his behavior was erratic and bizarre, however Routh actually proposed to her that night following their argument and Weed accepted.
Wednesday’s testimony from the people that spoke with and observed Routh leading up to and shortly after the shooting make it apparent that he was not in a sane mental state. Expert testimony later this week will be crucial in determining whether his psychotic state rose to the high level required for a Texas insanity defense.
Testimony will resume tomorrow, Feb. 19, at 9:00 a.m.
Source: NICOLE COLEMAN, Wild About Trial
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