The widow of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle testified Wednesday against the man accused of killing her husband, choking up at times and dabbing her eyes with a tissue as she described their family, how he became a Navy SEAL and later worked with wounded veterans.
“I’m sorry, I’m not nervous, I’m just emotional,” Taya Kyle said at one point when the prosecutor noticed her trembling and offered to take a break.
She kept her gaze away from the man with the shaved head and blue pinstriped suit seated across the courtroom. Eddie Ray Routh, 27, is charged with two counts of murder and one count of capital murder for the fatal shootings of Kyle, 38, and his friend Chad Littlefield, 35, during a trip to an outdoor shooting range near here on Feb. 2, 2013.
On Wednesday, Kyle, 40, described how her husband had met Routh. She recalled that when Kyle met Routh’s mother at their children’s school where she worked, Chris Kyle offered to take Routh, a former Marine, to a shooting range he had helped design.
According to Routh’s defense attorney, Tim Moore, Kyle and Littlefield quickly sensed they were with a disturbed young man. Moore said that during their drive to the range about 75 miles southwest of Dallas, Kyle, who was driving, texted Littlefield, who was riding shotgun while Routh sat in back.
“This dude is straight up nuts,” Kyle wrote.
Littlefield’s response: “He’s right behind me, watch my six,” military slang for "watch my back."
Taya Kyle testified that she spoke with her husband by cellphone while he drove to the shooting range. She said she suspected something was wrong when he was short with her, “like he couldn’t talk because there were people around.”
Moore acknowledged Routh killed the two men but said he was not guilty by reason of insanity because he was “delusional” and did not know what he was doing was wrong.
“The psychosis was so severe that he thought he had to take their lives or they would take his,” Moore said.
Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty. If convicted, Routh faces a maximum penalty of life without parole.
In her testimony, Taya Kyle described how her husband worked with troubled veterans and recalled his military career. Keeping her focus on the jurors — 10 women and two men — she spoke casually about how she met Kyle when he was finishing SEAL training in San Diego, an encounter featured in the Oscar-nominated movie based on Kyle’s book. They married in 2002 and she had a son and a daughter while he served four tours of duty in Iraq.
“As a sniper, his job was to do ‘over watch,’” she explained, “watching out for other comrades.” He served in many Iraq hot spots — including Fallujah, Ramadi and Baghdad’s Sadr City — and was awarded two Silver Stars and four Bronze Stars.
“He was good at his job … an incredibly fast draw,” she said.
Taya Kyle told jurors that after her husband left the military in 2009, he started a Dallas-based security company, Craft International, and started helping veterans by organizing outdoor shooting events. He had struggled with post-traumatic stress and wanted to help others, she said.
Kyle told her that, sometimes after going to a shooting range, veterans would open up and talk about their problems.
Erath County Dist. Atty. Alan Nash said that Routh drank and smoked marijuana the day of the killings, then coolly plotted to kill the men, well aware that it was wrong.
When Kyle’s body was found, he was wearing an empty holster, his empty .45 pistol lay by his head and he had been shot fives times in the back and side and once in the side of his head, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Nash said Littlefield was shot four times in the back, once in the hand, once in the face and the head. He said Littlefield was shot with a 9-millimeter pistol and “every bullet fired takes a pull of the trigger.”
Afterward, Routh took Kyle’s 9-millimeter Sig Sauer, a pistol engraved with an anchor on the side and issued to SEALs.
“While these two men lay there bleeding, he reloads this gun and fled” in Kyle’s pickup truck, Nash said, noting that Routh made several stops: at Taco Bell to buy a burrito, at home, at his uncle’s and his sister’s house, where he confessed to the murders.
Routh's sister Laura Blevins and her husband were at the house outside Dallas that day and have been called to testify.
Once Routh drove off from her house, Blevins called 911 and told police that her brother had confessed to killing Kyle and his friend — a call Nash told jurors they would hear in the course of the trial.
In that recording, Blevins can be heard advising her brother to surrender. “He told me that he has committed a murder,” Blevins, 30, told the 911 operator.
“I don't know if he's being honest with me,” she added. “I'm just really terrified.”
Blevins then gave the phone to her husband, Gaines Blevins, 31. He described the pickup Routh was driving and said there were two guns in it.
“He's recently diagnosed with PTSD ... and he's been acting a little weird from that. He just got out of the mental hospital, actually,” Gaines Blevins said.
He said Routh had been released from Green Oaks Psychiatric Hospital in Dallas “about a week ago.”
Perhaps the most comprehensive account of Routh’s mental condition was provided by his friends and loved ones to the New Yorker magazine before the judge issued a gag order in the case in July 2013, barring relatives and lawyers from discussing it publicly.
Jodi and Raymond Routh described their son as a troubled youth who joined the Marines, shipped off to boot camp in California and trained as an armorer fixing weapons before serving stints in Iraq and Haiti. He returned a heavy drinker, angry and on edge, diagnosed with PTSD, they said.
Some of Routh’s relatives sat in rows reserved for the defense Wednesday, at times growing teary as Routh’s attorneys detailed his mental health record.