Front Row At The “American Sniper” Trial – Day 9
The Texas jury found former Marine Eddie Ray Routh guilty of capital murder in the deaths of “American Sniper” author and former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and his good friend Chad Littlefield at a gun range on Jan 2, 2013. Judge Jason Cashon was adamant that the trial run as efficiently as possible from the beginning, which is why it was no surprise that after nine days of testimony, the jury deliberated for less than three hours. Judge Cashon wasted no time after the verdict was read, sentencing Routh almost immediately to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Defense attorneys did not dispute whether Routh shot and killed Kyle and Littlefield at Rough Creek Lodge two years ago, and instead focused on proving that he was legally insane at the time of the offense. In the state of Texas, if someone is found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity it means that he was suffering from a severe mental illness and as a result he did not know that his actions were wrong. Prosecutors contested the defense’s claims, arguing that Routh was aware that his actions were wrong and any symptoms of a mental disorder were a result of substance abuse.
Prosecutors continued their rebuttal Tuesday morning with expert witness testimony from Howard J. Ryan, a forensic operations specialist from New Jersey. Ranger Michael Adcock attended a course in Crime Scene Analysis in Tennessee taught by Ryan, and asked if the instructor could look at a case he was working on. This started an extensive investigation in which Ryan created a shooting incident reconstruction through crime scene and blood stain pattern analysis. From this data he was able to narrow down the location of all the parties to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty. According to Ryan, the most important thing to understand when doing a crime scene investigation is the position of the victim and the position of the shooter.
When examining Mr. Kyle, Ryan noticed something significant about the entry wounds. He saw multiple shots fired in a small area on one portion of his body (the right side), linear in shape and confined. Shootings are always dynamic, according to Ryan, so it is rare to see proof of relatively no movement once a shot is fired. However, in because of the locations of the wounds in this case, Ryan concluded that Chris Kyle never saw this coming. “These gunshot wounds shot him in an area that was capacitating and isolated to a specific area in his body,” Ryan testified.
Chad Littlefield’s gunshot wounds told a different story, indicating movement since the first bullet hit his body. After studying the blood spatter and locations of his wounds, Ryan believes that he was probably on his knees at some point before falling backwards, ending up with his back on the deck and his legs slightly bent to the right. The bullet that entered his face stayed in his clothing, meaning that the body was against something hard. After his analysis, Ryan stated that the most likely scenario was that Littlefield was shot twice in the back first, before going down on his knees and falling to the ground.
Ryan also included in his model the fact that both Kyle and Littlefield were armed yet never drew their weapons. In regards to Kyle, “Given his particular skill set, if he’s faced with the confrontation, I have to believe that he would have defended himself if given the chance.” After a crime scene reconstruction, Ryan believes that it is not coincidental that the shooter was in an area where he was able to engage both victims either simultaneously or quickly, or that he waited until the revolver was empty. These factors indicated to Ryan it was likely the engagement occurred at a time of the shooter’s choosing.
Defense attorneys on cross-examination were quick to ask the prosecution’s expert if it was possible to tell the state of mind of the defendant from this analysis. “No,” Ryan responded.
Chief Jason Upshaw, who was the first witness to testify in the prosecution’s rebuttal case, took the stand again to authenticate an audio recording of a phone conversation between Routh and a reporter for the New Yorker, as part of a jail house interview on May 31, 2013. Prosecutors played the recording to the jurors, during which Routh describes the day he killed Kyle and Littlefield, and then expresses how badly he feels about it. “I feel really shitty about it. I guess you live and you learn you know?” Routh told the reporter before admitting that he was offended that Kyle and Littlefield didn’t seem to want to talk to him.
What exactly caused Routh to reach his breaking point is still unclear, but it was significant that during the interview with the reporter he never mentioned he thought Kyle and Littlefied were ‘pig assasins’ trying to take over the world, which was what he later told the defense expert, Dr. Dunn. The prosecution has argued that Routh made up these ‘pig man’ delusions in order to fake symptoms of schizophrenia in defense of his actions.
Instead, during the interview he speaks vaguely about his reasons for shooting the two men trying to help him that day, stating, “I had to take care of business. I took care of business and I got in the truck and left. It was fucked up.”
After playing the interview between Routh and the New Yorker reporter, the State rested it’s rebuttal case. The defense then called up one last rebuttal witness, forensic scientist Dr. Michael H. Dunn, who testified last Thursday Routh suffered from schizophrenia and as a result he did not know that his conduct was wrong at the time of the offense.
Dr. Dunn reiterated Tuesday that in his opinion, Routh’s symptoms were not consistent with that of a mood disorder but rather schizophrenia, which is not caused by substance use.
Specifically, Dr. Dunn responded to prosecution expert Dr. Arambula’s statement on Friday that “He was not insane because he was intoxicated at the time of the offense – and any time intoxication is present, the game is over.” According to Dunn, that is only the case when someone’s mental illness is second to intoxication. He claims, “If mental illness is not second to the intoxication, ‘the game is on.’ You don’t stop just because someone is intoxicated.”
Dr. Dunn also noted Tuesday that according to the medical records, each time Routh was released from the VA for mental health treatment he was prescribed a different medication for a mood disorder. When doctors prescribed him Risperdal, a medication often used to treat psychotic symptoms, on top of a mood stabilizer that indicates that it was prescribed in order to treat a psychosis, not mood disorder.
And with that final statement the defense rested their case as well.
Before closing arguments, Judge Cashon outlined to the jury the charges facing the defendant, ensuring they realize that in order to find him Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity, they must believe that, beyond a reasonable doubt, Routh suffered from a mental disease or defect that caused him to not know his conduct was wrong.
Assistant Attorney General Jane Starnes began the State’s closing arguments by reminding the jury that the two innocent lives taken by Eddie Routh were fathers, sons, husbands, and friends whose only motive that day was to help a struggling veteran. Their need for compassion and friendship made the victims override their instinct to protect themselves, which ultimately led to their death.
As Starnes puts it, somewhere on the way to Rough Creek Lodge that day, Routh showed his true colors and, “let his freak flag fly.” A text message exchange between Kyle and Littlefield as they were driving up to the shooting range has been a central topic of discussion, in which Kyle tells Littlefield, “This dude is straight up nuts.” Prosecutors have alleged that Routh was always a little strange and “nuts” by doing things like painting his lady bug car and wearing his girlfriend’s clothes and pink argyle socks in public.
The prosecution spent most of their closing argument explaining why Routh should not fall under the definition of what is ‘legally insane’ in the state of Texas: “It was cold, it was bloody, it was a senseless crime. But just because it was a senseless crime doesn’t make a person insane.” During their case-in-chief, the prosecution presented testimony from expert witnesses who believe Routh’s mental state is better explained by a drug induced psychosis combined with a personality disorder. But as Starnes points out, they don’t have to prove that the defendant was sane, the burden of proof is on the defense to prove that he was insane.
The prosecution wrapped up their closing arguments by listing multiple examples in which they believe Routh admitted to knowing his actions were wrong. Immediately after the offense, Routh stole Kyle’s truck fled the crime scene. Before his arrest, Routh engaged in a high speed police chase, and people usually only run from the police when they know they did something wrong. Since incarcerated, the defendant has made several statements of regret including telling Ranger Briley in his initial interview that he wished he could apologize to the families for what he did.
Before the defense began their closing arguments, Starnes passionately implored the jury, “Ladies and gentleman, that is not insanity. That is just cold blooded, capital murder.”
Routh’s defense attorneys took turns during their closing argument describing the severity of the defendant’s psychosis that they believe caused him not to know his actions were wrong. They urged the jury to interpret the word ‘wrong’ how they would in their common, every day affairs, as opposed to how it is defined under the penal code.
Defense attorneys also argued that Routh was not intoxicated at the time of the shooting, stating that if Routh and his uncle James Watson smoked two bowls of marijuana early in the morning of Feb. 2, it would be nearly impossible for its effects to last up until his interview with Ranger Briley around 11:30pm, where his delusional behavior is clearly visible.
Routh’s attorneys also made the point that if there was suspicion that his psychotic behavior was due to substance use the night of his arrest, it would have been extremely simple for law enforcement to go to the judge at the station and get a warrant to obtain a blood sample for analysis. Law enforcement made the conscious decision not to take that precaution, “…and then they want to stand here and tell you how intoxicated he was, when they wouldn’t even get a sample,” the defense argues.
Defense attorneys also addressed the credibility of their insanity plea, stating that Dr. Dunn works with schizophrenic patients every single day, unlike the prosecution experts. They believe they have proven to the jury by the greater weight of credible evidence that Routh was insane at the time he took the lives of Kyle and Littlefield. Routh’s friends and family have illustrated multiple psychotic episodes that resulted in Routh’s hospitalization. Earlier in the trial when Routh’s mother Jodi was on the stand, prosecutors asked her why she didn’t warn Kyle about the hospitalization, so during closings defense counsel flipped that question back on the prosecution, insisting, “you can’t ask Jodi Routh to warn Chris Kyle that Eddie was crazy, and then ask the jury not to find him crazy.”
Throughout the defense’s closing arguments, Chris Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle, grew visibly upset, and at one point stormed out of the courtroom without returning.
Alan Nash finished the closing for the state before the case was turned over to the jury in what was perhaps the prosecution’s most passionate argument seen in the trial. He told jurors, “We have heard for two weeks excuse, after excuse, after excuse, for violent behavior in this case and before.” Routh’s true colors came out the day of the shootings, and he cannot try and use mental illness as a justification for his actions, Nas continued. Prosecutors insisted that the severity of his delusions were an act, and that “the performance, or the lie, depends on who the audience is.”
Nash added that the defendant is not a casual person who smokes a joint every once in an while, “we are talking about hard core cannabis use.”
He stressed to the jury that they have the ability to stop this endless flood of excuses for his violent behavior, “Ladies and gentleman, you have learned a lot about what the defendant is capable of. You learned that he is capable of gunning down two people in the back. You learned that he is capable of executing a man while he is down and you learned that he is capable of dreaming up excuses to get his hide out of trouble at a convenient time.”
After closing arguments concluded, the jury was given the case at 6:36 p.m. CST at which point the fate of Eddie Ray Routh rested in their hands. After about two and a half hours of deliberation, the jury returned with a verdict: Guilty of 1st degree murder. Routh was almost immediately sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors determined earlier that would not seek the death penalty,
Following the verdict, victim impact statements were given from Littlefield’s half-brother Jerry Richardson and father Don Littlefield.
Richardson addressed Routh stating, “These men were heroes. Men that tried to be a friend to you. And you became an American disgrace. Your humanity and disregard for life have put you in a world you will never escape.”
Littlefield’s father powerfully concluded his statement by confronting Routh directly, “You confessed that you did not know Chad’s name when you brutally murdered him. Now you will have every day of your wasted life to remember him. And let me remind you, his name was Chad Littlefield. C-H-A-D L-I-T-T-L-E-F-I-E-L-D.”
Prosecutors were successful in convincing the jury that Eddie Routh was aware that his actions were wrong and should be found guilty of capital murder; however, as the courtroom cleared and Routh was sentenced to life in prison, it was evident that there were no “winners” in the State of Texas vs. Eddie Ray Routh. Two men were stolen from their families in the prime of their lives, and Routh will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Source: NICOLE COLEMAN, Wild About Trial
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