‘American Sniper’ guilty verdict draws brisk, blunt reactions from Texans

Jason Sickles
Judge Jason Cashon reads the sentence to ex-Marine Eddie Ray Routh Tuesday evening. (Michael Ainsworth/AP)

STEPHENVILLE, Texas — The next batch of Chris Kyle memorial ball caps won’t arrive at the Grand Entry Western Store here until mid-March, but a waitlist for them already stands at nearly 100 pre-orders.

“We have people calling every day or coming in the store,” said Sierra Jones, an employee of the clothing store.

They expect the demand to increase after a jury here found an ex-Marine guilty late Tuesday in the shooting deaths of Kyle, the legendary Navy SEAL “American Sniper,” and his best friend, Chad Littlefield, two years ago.

Lana Karlberg, a store manager, said she wasn’t surprised that it only took the jury a little more than two hours to reject Eddie Ray Routh’s insanity defense and return a verdict.

“Most people around here, if you talk to them, would say that they think he's guilty,” Karlberg said. “He had bragged to people about shooting them and killing them. It's all there.”

Murder victims Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield (File)

The trial was closely followed in this rural town of 19,000, but also drew international attention in part because of the Oscar-winning blockbuster film based on Kyle’s memoir of his four tours in Iraq.

A cold front arrived overnight, blanketing the area’s pastures and historic streets in a scenic snow. Kyle’s widow found it the perfect time to thank the community on her husband’s Facebook page.

“What a poetic morning when the snow is melting and the winter is thawing out promising a new day,” Taya Kyle wrote. “God Bless the Jury And good people of Stephenville, Texas!!”

Texas politicians also pounced on the opportunity to applaud the verdict.

“JUSTICE!” newly elected Republican Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted within minutes of the decision.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also took to Twitter, saying “Hope & pray this verdict brings some peace & closure to friends, family & loved ones of Chris Kyle & Chad Littlefield.”

Grand Entry Western Store has sold more than 300 of the Hooey Chris Kyle memorial caps. (Courtesy photo)

The Kyle memorial caps ordered by Grand Entry come from Hooey Brands, an Austin-based clothing line popular with the rodeo crowd. Fifteen percent of sales are donated to support veteran’s organizations. The custom hats, which Hooey sells through a number of outlets, raised $30,000 in 2014, according to its website.

An American flag and the Kyle quote “It’s our duty to serve those who serve us” cover the bottom of the cap’s bill. Kyle, who recorded the most kills of any U.S. sniper, had retired from the military and had been helping other veterans deal with combat-related stress and mental health issues.

“A lot of people around here support the military,” Karlberg said. “So it hit close to home for people. A small-town pride thing, I guess. Not just because he was in the military, but he was a war hero, he had the most sniper kills and he had written a book about his experiences. He went out and he helped people that were having trouble coming back from war.”

Five hours after publishing it on Wednesday, Taya Kyle’s Facebook post had received more than 80,000 likes and shares and 2,600 comments. In the third paragraph, she speaks directly to her late husband.

“Chris, you are the love of my life,” she writes. “You live on in my heart. You always will. I hope we all live lives that make you proud.”

Taya Kyle posted to Facebook on Wednesday: “Chris, you are the love of my life. I hope we all live lives that make you proud.” (Tom Fox/AP)

Routh, a Marine corporal who specialized as a small-arms technician and repairman, served in Haiti  after the 2010 earthquake and in Iraq but never saw combat. Since leaving the service, Routh had been hospitalized for what was described in court as post traumatic stress disorder and psychosis. Kyle and Littlefield, who didn’t know Routh, had taken him to the remote gun range near Stephenville as a kind of therapy, the jury was told.

Routh's attorneys wanted the case moved because of Kyle's military celebrity and pre-trial publicity, but their motions were denied. On Wednesday, they said they plan to appeal the conviction.

For 752 days Routh has been locked away at the small county jail on the northeast edge of town. That will change in the coming days when deputies transfer him to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, where he will serve life in prison without parole.

Erath County Sheriff Tommy Bryant said he’s ready for Routh to have a new home.

“Once they are sentenced, sometimes they feel they have nothing else to live for, and there’s always the possibility that they could not only hurt themselves but even a guard,” Bryant told Yahoo News, adding that the jail had no problems with Routh after the verdict.

Retired Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, a friend of Kyle's and subject of the film “Lone Survivor,” attended Tuesday's hearing as a show of support. Luttrell, also a Texan, reveled in the thought of Routh’s reception in prison.

“Justice served for Chris and the Littlefield family,” Luttrell posted to Facebook after the verdict. “To Eddie Ray Routh, you thought you had PTSD before .?? Wait till the boys in TDC Find out you killed a TX hero.”

(This story has been updated since it was originally published.)

Jason Sickles is a reporter for Yahoo News. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).