Decorated Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle and his best friend, Chad Littlefield, had never met Eddie Routh before all three climbed into a pickup two years ago this month.
But Kyle had not hesitated when Routh’s mother asked him to help her son, a Marine veteran who was having a difficult time adjusting to civilian life.
On Feb. 2, 2013, Kyle and Littlefield picked up Routh, now 27, at his Lancaster home and settled in for the long drive to Rough Creek Lodge southwest of Glen Rose. They planned to shoot at targets and shoot the breeze.
It didn’t take long for Kyle, 38, and Littlefield, 35, to notice something was off with Routh.
“This dude is straight up nuts,” Kyle texted Littlefield on the drive.
“Watch my 6,” Littlefield replied, a military term meaning “Watch my back.”
Hours later, both men lay dead at the shooting range. Prosecutors say Routh shot both of them — with separate guns — multiple times before driving off in Kyle’s black pickup.
Routh was quickly caught and eventually charged with capital murder. He pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys are pursuing an insanity defense — a seldom-used tactic requiring them to prove that Routh suffered from a severe mental disease or defect that prevented him from knowing his conduct was wrong at the time of the double slaying.
Six shots each
On Wednesday, the defense and prosecution began laying out their arguments in a case that has attracted growing attention in the two years since the shooting. The day was marked by lengthy opening statements, emotional testimony and intense media coverage fueled by the movie American Sniper, which opened in December and is based on Kyle’s bestselling memoir.
Neither side disputes that Routh was a troubled veteran suffering from mental illness. What is in dispute is whether Routh knew his actions were wrong when he gunned down Kyle and Littlefield.
“He was in the grips of a psychosis — a psychosis so severe that he did not know what he was doing was wrong,” said veteran Fort Worth defense attorney Tim Moore, who is defending Routh with Warren St. John and R. Shay Isham.
“He thought, in his mind, at that point in time, that it was either him or them. He had to take their lives because he was thinking they were going to take his.”
Moore said Routh, a veteran who was honorably discharged, was mentally ill and had been in and out of veterans hospitals in the months before the shooting.
“At the time of this tragic event, this tragic occurrence, Eddie Routh was insane,” Moore said.
Erath County District Attorney Alan Nash told the jury of 10 women and two men to pay careful attention to Routh’s actions before, during and after the slayings.
“In the end, there will be two critical issues: Did he intentionally cause their deaths and, when he did so, did he know that what he did was wrong?” said Nash, who is prosecuting the case with Assistant Attorney General Jane Starnes. “Those will be the two ultimate issues we will ask you to decide.”
Nash said Routh shot Kyle with a .45-caliber pistol five times in the back and once in the head. He shot Littlefield with a 9 mm handgun four times in the back, once in the face and once in the head.
Afterward, Routh reloaded the 9 mm pistol, which was engraved with a Navy anchor, and drove away in Kyle’s truck.
Stopped to get his dog
As Kyle and Littlefield lay dead, Nash said, Routh drove to his uncle’s house to show him his new truck and guns. Afterward, he stopped to have a “burrito at Taco Bell.”
At some point, Routh showed up at his sister’s house in Midlothian.
“When she asked him, ‘Where did you get those guns?’ He tells her, ‘Well, I just murdered two men,’” Nash told the jury.
Routh’s sister contacted authorities, who went to Routh’s home in Lancaster and encountered him. Routh told his sister that he had planned to flee to Oklahoma and he had already been by his house once to get his dog, but he forgot something and had returned home, Nash said.
Police confronted him and a pursuit ensued. He was arrested after Lancaster authorities rammed his vehicle and disabled it. Later, he confessed to the crimes, Nash said.
“He admitted that he murdered two men and had abused drugs and alcohol that morning and that he knew what he did was wrong,” Nash told the jury.
Wife, mother testify
Perhaps the most emotional testimony of the day came from Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle, and Littlefield’s mother, Judy Littlefield.
Both said they knew Kyle and Littlefield were taking a troubled veteran to Rough Creek Lodge to try to help him. Both had a passion for veteran causes.
“He specifically chose a place that was beautiful and peaceful,” Taya Kyle testified.
But Taya Kyle said she grew increasingly worried after she couldn’t reach her husband and he failed to answer her text messages.
“Hey are you OK?” she said she texted him at one point. “I’m getting worried.”
That evening, a police officer friend unexpectedly showed up at her house.
“He said, ‘Have you seen Chris’ truck?’” Taya Kyle recalled. “He said, ‘I think Chris has been hurt.’”
Later, the friend confirmed the news that her husband was dead.
Meanwhile, Littlefield’s parents, Don and Judy, were also summoned to Taya Kyle’s house.
“There was a lot of law enforcement,” Judy Littlefield said. “We told them who we were, and they ushered us into the house. Chad’s wife met me and said, ‘Chris is gone. We don’t know about Chad yet.’… I almost fell to the floor.”
Hours later, their worst fears were confirmed.
“They were having a problem identifying him,” Judy Littlefield said. “It was way into the night when we finally learned.”
“Chad was a good son. He was either calling us every day or coming to see us every other day. He was just a caring, caring son.”
Wednesday would have been his 38th birthday.
The trial is scheduled to continue Thursday morning in state District Judge Jason Cashon’s court in Stephenville.