Trial comes for Marine accused of killing ‘American Sniper’
STEPHENVILLE, Texas (AP) — Eddie Ray Routh had been talking crazy for a while. So when he showed up on his sister’s doorstep one afternoon two Februarys ago and claimed to have shot two men, she didn’t know what to think.
But when Laura Blevins saw the big black custom pickup truck in the driveway, not Eddie’s Volkswagen Beetle, her stomach tightened. He asked if she was with him “in hell,” then drove off into the fading light.
“I’m terrified for my life,” she breathlessly told a 911 dispatcher. “I don’t know if he’s being honest with me.”
It wasn’t long before she got her answer.
Routh, a 27-year-old Iraq War veteran, is scheduled to stand trial Wednesday, charged with capital murder in the slayings of Chad Littlefield and former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, whose memoir “American Sniper” is now an Academy Award-nominated movie. The two men had taken the ex-Marine to a shooting range in an attempt to help him battle post-traumatic stress disorder and other personal demons besetting him.
Routh’s attorneys are planning to argue that he was insane. Many expect PTSD from his Iraq tour and a relief mission to earthquake-stricken Haiti to be another narrative thread in that defense.
But with Kyle’s personal story the subject of a blockbuster currently packing them in at cinemas near and far, Routh’s defenders wonder whether he can get a fair trial.
Although it appears that Kyle and Routh hadn’t met before that fatal day in February 2013, they had a lot in common.
Both had attended high school southwest of Dallas in the town of Midlothian, the self-proclaimed “Cement Capital of Texas.” Each had played football for the Midlothian Panthers and been involved with the Future Farmers of America, though 14 years apart.
And, most importantly, both ended up in the military and went to war.
After a brief stint in college and a flirtation with rodeo bronc riding, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Kyle joined the Navy and qualified for its elite special forces unit. As a sniper with SEAL Team 3, he would rack up, by his own count, more than 300 kills and earn two Silver Stars, the military’s third-highest honor for valor.
The father of two left the Navy in 2009, following four tours in Iraq. Three years later, he published his best-selling memoir, “American Sniper.”
Routh’s path would be paved with far less glory.
By most accounts, he was a middling student and a bit of a troublemaker. Kc Bernard, a former security guard at Midlothian High, remembers Routh as a decent defensive lineman, but easy to anger.
“He had a chip on his shoulder,” says Bernard, who recalls a heart-to-heart with Routh outside the school gym after the teen had had a falling out with his parents.
“I know for a fact that his home life wasn’t great,” says Bernard, who now teaches social studies in Dallas. “They did not get along.”
But by senior year, Routh knew what he wanted to do with his life. Although a photo in the 2006 Midlothian High yearbook shows a buzz-cut Routh chatting with an Army recruiter, he had his heart set on the Marines.
“I want to be one of the few and the proud,” he told the photographer.
Not long after graduation, Routh — also 6-2, but about 50 pounds lighter than Kyle — was off to boot camp in California. By September 2007, he was in the Middle East.
In a conversation with his parents shortly before deploying, he reportedly expressed concerns about having to use his weapon.
“He said, ‘Dad, how are you going to feel about me if I have to kill somebody?'” his mother, Jodi Routh, told a writer from Men’s Health magazine before a judge imposed a gag order in the case. “Our response was, of course, ‘Eddie, this is a war. You kill them before they can kill you.'”
A few months later, his parents told the magazine, he called home and suggested that something bad had happened while he was out on patrol.
“How would you feel if I shot a kid?” they said he asked.
But family and friends say Routh was more disturbed by what he saw during a later deployment — in earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
In January 2010, Routh was attached to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit as part of Operation Unified Response, sent to the island nation. They found a country in ruins, with about a quarter million dead — many of them stacked in rotting piles along the muddy roads.
Routh talked of being forbidden by an officer to give his rations to a starving boy — and of things much worse.
“He wasn’t prepared for what he was doing out there,” his father told London’s Daily Mail for an article published last month. “Fishing hundreds of bodies — men, women, children — out of the ocean, piling them up and throwing them into mass graves.”
Routh left the Marines as a corporal that summer and floated around — a brief stint with a military contractor, doing odd jobs for a real estate agent, cabinet-making, building storage units. He was diagnosed with PTSD the following summer, according to medical records viewed by Men’s Health.
His drinking, which had begun in his teens, got worse.
In September 2012, Routh was transported to Green Oaks Hospital for psychiatric care after his mother told police he’d threatened to kill himself and family. Police had found him wandering — barefoot, shirtless and reeking of alcohol.
“Eddie stated he was hurting and that his family does not understand what he has been through,” the police report said.
His parents and sister have told reporters that Eddie claimed to be a vampire or werewolf, and complained that a tapeworm was eating out his insides.
Routh would go back to Green Oaks at least one more time. On Jan. 30, 2013, his mother took him to the Veteran’s Administration hospital.
Despite her pleas that he be admitted, doctors sent him home.
ALLEN G. BREED, JAMIE STENGLE
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