'American Sniper' widow to be among first witnesses in murder trial

'American Sniper' jury includes 10 women, 2 men

The widow of "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle will be among the first to testify against the troubled veteran charged with killing her husband and his friend as the trial begins Wednesday. 

Prosecutors said they planned to call Taya Kyle, 40, as a witness along with Judy Littlefield, mother of Chad Littlefield, the slain friend. Kyle and Littlefield had taken Eddie Ray Routh to a nearby shooting range in an effort to help him. 

Routh, 27, is charged with two counts of murder and one count of capital murder in connection with shooting of Kyle, 38, and Littlefield, 35, on Feb. 2, 2013.

Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty. If convicted, Routh faces a maximum penalty of life without parole.

Erath County District Judge Jason Cashon initially summoned 800 jurors from this mostly rural county of about 40,000 that lies about 100 miles southwest of Dallas. Cashon narrowed the pool Thursday and Friday. On Monday, Routh’s attorneys and prosecutors questioned remaining jurors and settled on a group of 10 women and two men – plus two alternates, male and female.

Routh, who is being held at the county jail in lieu of $3-million bail, has attended court daily wearing dress clothes and glasses, his head shaved.

Prosecutors filed court paperwork Tuesday outlining Routh’s alleged prior "bad acts," which they may present to the jury.

They allege that Routh smoked marijuana, drank heavily and threatened to fatally shoot himself and others.

Specifically, they allege that:

  • On Jan. 2, 2012, after Routh was arrested in the Dallas area for driving while intoxicated, he told officers he was a Marine suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Routh's license was suspended and his truck impounded. 
  • On Jan. 19, 2013, police took Routh to a mental hospital after he threatened his girlfriend and her roommate with a kitchen knife.
  • The day of the killings, Routh had been drinking and smoking marijuana and again threatened his girlfriend with a knife.
  • After his arrest, Routh threatened officers and vandalized his jail cell.

"The defendant's arrest for DWI [in 2012] and his assertion of being a veteran with PTSD during the arrest is similar to his statements during his arrest for the present case," prosecutors wrote.

They note that on the day Kyle and Littlefield were killed, Routh was caught driving Kyle's truck; that his sister told police he said he had "sold my soul for this truck;" and that those comments "could be indicative of one of the defendant's motives in the crime."

Cashon said he would rule on admitting the prior acts on a case-by-case basis. He also ruled that Taya Kyle and Judy Littlefield could watch the proceedings after they testified.

Routh’s attorneys have questioned whether he can get a fair trial in Texas, given the publicity surrounding Kyle, a former Navy SEAL whose autobiography has been adapted into an Oscar-nominated movie directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper.

Many prospective jurors said they had read Kyle’s book or seen the movie, which is still playing at a nearby theater.

The judge told prospective jurors that reading or watching "American Sniper" would not automatically disqualify them. But he dismissed prospective jurors who, after seeing the movie or reading the book, said they had made their mind up about Routh’s guilt.

Routh’s attorneys had petitioned Cashon to move the case, saying the publicity made it impossible for their client to receive a fair trial, but the judge refused.

The questionnaire distributed to jurors and released Tuesday asked not only whether they had read or seen “American Sniper,” but also whether they had served in the military, been in combat and, if so, where they fought.

The questionnaire also asked about their familiarity with firearms, hunting and shooting; whether they or relatives ever sought treatment at a Veterans Affairs hospital and their opinion of the experience; whether they had received mental health treatment; their opinion of psychologists and psychiatrists; and whether they ever studied the insanity legal defense.

Routh served with the Marines in Iraq and Haiti. His Fort Worth attorneys, J. Warren St. John and Thomas Moore, have filed motions indicating they plan to pursue an insanity defense.

It is not clear whether Routh’s relatives plan to attend the trial.

His sister, Laura Blevins, declined to comment when contacted this month, citing a gag order issued by the judge for relatives and lawyers involved in the case. Routh's attorneys and prosecutors also declined to comment, citing the gag order.

 

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