As the governor proclaimed Monday “Chris Kyle Day” in honor of the Navy SEAL made famous by the Oscar-nominated movie “American Sniper,” this small Texas town geared up for the trial of Kyle's accused killer, fellow Iraq war veteran Eddie Ray Routh.
Kyle, 38, gained fame as one of the country’s most lethal snipers during four tours of duty in Iraq and with his book about his experiences.
He was gunned down two years ago Monday during target practice with Routh. Kyle’s friend Chad Littlefield, 35, was also shot to death.
Routh, 27, was being held at Erath County Jail on Monday in lieu of $3-million bail.
Routh is charged with two counts of murder and one count of capital murder, according to jail records. The prosecutor has said he will not seek the death penalty.
Jury selection is scheduled to start Thursday, Erath County District Court Clerk Wanda Pringle said. The trial will get underway the following Wednesday and is expected to last two weeks, Pringle said.
Erath County has a population of about 40,000 and lies about a hundred miles southwest of Dallas.
Pringle summoned 800 jurors from a pool of 30,000 and they will be questioned in smaller groups by the judge Thursday and Friday, then by attorneys Monday and Tuesday, she said.
Routh’s Fort Worth-based attorney, J. Warren St. John, has requested the trial be moved because of publicity surrounding “American Sniper,” and although his latest request is pending, the judge has so far refused.
District Judge Jason Cashon, former Erath County district attorney, issued a gag order in July 2013 that bars lawyers and Routh’s relatives from discussing the case.
The jury will not be sequestered, Pringle said, despite concerns about juror safety after a bomb threat was called in Jan. 26 to the local newspaper, the Empire-Tribune.
The newspaper’s managing editor said Monday that sheriff’s investigators reviewed their phone records but have not identified a suspect.
Local officials responded with stepped-up security surrounding the courthouse that will include added metal detectors, security escorts and shutting down a two-block radius as of Saturday with added law enforcement from other state, county and local agencies, according to Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Earl Gillum.
“We’ve been working on this for months and months. They’ve done everything they can to address security. Matter of fact, I have officers sitting at the back right now,” Pringle said, gesturing to the rear of the courtroom, “The jurors will be well taken care of.”
Court staff set aside 21 of 113 seats in the courtroom gallery for relatives of Routh and Kyle, although it was unclear who will attend, Pringle said.
She said court staff already feel overwhelmed as the trial approaches.
“We’ve done murders and we’ve done capital murders, but we’ve never done to this extent,” Pringle said.