‘American Sniper’ jury finds ex-Marine guilty of murder

Jason Sickles
A jury took a little more than two hours to find ex-Marine Eddie Ray Routh guilty of murder. (REUTERS/LM Otero/Pool)

STEPHENVILLE, Texas — Erath County District Court Judge Jason Cashon sentenced Eddie Ray Routh to life in prison without the possibility of parole, then turned the floor over to the families of the two men the defendant had just been found guilty of murdering.

Relatives of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle did not speak, but the brother and father of victim Chad Littlefield wanted to have their say. Each stood to somberly and sternly address Routh.

“You took the lives of two heroes — men who tried to be a friend to you,” said Jerry Richardson, Littlefield's brother. “You became an American disgrace.”

Routh, a former Marine and Iraq war veteran, shot the men several times while at a gun range on Feb. 2, 2013. Kyle, a former Navy SEAL and the deadliest sniper in American military history, often took fellow veterans to the shooting range as a form of therapy. Littlefield, 35, did not serve in the military, but often volunteered his time to help veterans, his family said.

During the two-week trial, the defense team tried to convince the jury that mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder triggered Routh to turn on Kyle and Littlefield.

Murder victims Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield (File)

But the jury took a little more than two hours Tuesday evening to reject the insanity defense and find Routh guilty of capital murder.

From the defense table, Routh looked to his right at Richardson standing at the front of the public seating area.

“Your claims of PTSD have been an insult to every veteran who served with honor — disgracing a proud military with your cowardice,” Richardson said. “You wanted to be a Marine, a real man. But you destroyed the opportunity by committing a senseless act. You have put yourself in a world you will never escape.”

During closing arguments, defense attorneys admitted that there’s no doubt that their client did the crime, but asked the jury to focus on evidence that Routh, now 27, was having a psychotic episode when he pulled the trigger.

“He didn’t kill those men because of who he wanted to be, he killed them because he had a delusion,” defense attorney J. Warren St. John said. “He believed in his mind that they were going to kill him. Eddie didn’t know these men.”

If Routh had been found not guilty by reason of insanity, he would have faced a sentence of up to life in a state mental hospital.

Kyle is somewhat of a favorite son in Stephenville. He attended college here in the early 1990s before dropping out to be a full-time rodeo rider and eventually joining the Navy. Tarleton State University named him as an outstanding young alumnus following his four tours of duty, multiple honors for service in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the best-selling memoir turned movie.

Defense attorneys tried to get the trial moved elsewhere, but their were motions denied. On Tuesday, defense attorney Tim Moore pressed the jury to not let Kyle’s status as a war hero and the attention of the case keep them from doing their job.

“You can’t go back in there and say, ‘Oh, I can’t do this. What would I say to my neighbor? What would I say to my friends at church?’” Moore said. “Don’t violate your conscious just make somebody else happy.”

Kyle’s widow, Taya, has attended every moment of the trial, but was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read. According to the Dallas Morning News, she reportedly stormed out of the courtroom during closing arguments when defense attorney R. Shay Isham used Chris Kyle's name to illustrate that Routh was insane.

In their closing arguments, prosecutors said Routh may have been high from drinking liquor and smoking marijuana earlier in the day, but that he was too calculated in the shootings and his getaway to be legally insane.

Taya Kyle, left, widow of sniper Chris Kyle, listens to her friend, Amy Novacek, during the trial on Tuesday. (AP Photo/The Dallas Morning News, Michael Ainsworth, Pool)

They maintain that Routh waited for Kyle to run out of bullets, then surprised both men by shooting them in the back multiple times. Prosecutor Jane Starnes described Routh as cold and said he took a commemorative handgun belonging to the former SEAL.

“That’s the one that had the Navy insignia on it,” Starnes told the jury. “He took that one because it was a trophy.”

Routh fled in Kyle’s Ford truck and drove more than 100 miles back to the Dallas area where he picked up his dog, told his sister that he was headed to Oklahoma, purchased burritos at Taco Bell and eventually surrendered following a high-speed chase with police.

“Crazy don’t run,” Starnes said. “They stay there at the scene. Just because it was a senseless crime doesn’t make a person insane.”

Don and Judy Littlefield, left, parents of Chad Littlefield, leave after hearing the guilty verdict. (AP/The Dallas Morning News, Michael Ainsworth)

Erath County District Attorney Alan Nash reminded the jury that Routh had used PTSD as a defense during previous brushes with the law. Nash concluded the prosecution’s closing argument on Tuesday by pulling on panel’s local civic pride.

“He’s gone to the deep well of excuses for his violent behavior too many times,” Nash said. “This defendant gunned down two men in cold blood, shooting them in the back, in our county. Find him guilty.”

Though it was an option, prosecutors elected not to seek the death penalty. The irony wasn’t lost on Don Littlefield as he spoke to his son’s killer in the courtroom.

“The State of Texas has decided to spare your life, which is more than you were willing to give Chad,” Littlefield said. “As much as we hurt and are devastated by our tremendous loss, by the grace of God, we will not become angry, bitter or resentful. That would keep us bound to you, and you do not deserve that honor.”

Routh told investigators that he didn’t even know Chad Littlefield’s name when he shot him at least six times.

“Now you will have the rest of your wasted life — each and every day of it — to remember his name,” Don Littlefield said. “Let me remind you, his name is Chad Littlefield: C-H-A-D L-I-T-T-L-E-F-I-E-L-D.”

Judge Cashon then ordered deputies to take Routh away.

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