This small city southwest of Fort Worth that calls itself the “Cowboy Capital of the World” is preparing for a wild ride starting Thursday when jury selection begins in the capital murder trial of the man accused of fatally shooting retired Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and a friend.
Erath County deputies and employees were working on parking lots around the town square Wednesday. And the regulars at Jake and Dorothy’s Cafe, a Stephenville institution a few blocks from the courthouse, were talking trial.
“I’m interested in who is picked on that jury,” said Tommy Roberson, a cafe customer and Stephenville resident. “You know everyone has heard about this case.”
Erath County law officers have other concerns, expecting to spend about $1 million on security for the trial, which will take place at a courthouse annex a block from the square.
National and international media, not to mention 800 residents in the jury pool, will descend on the city of 18,561 for the trial, which is expected to last about two weeks.
Kyle, a highly decorated sniper, had been in the national spotlight since the 2012 release of his memoir, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. The book stayed on bestseller lists for months. The film American Sniper, released Jan. 16, is a record-breaking hit.
Eddie Routh, a 27-year-old Iraq war veteran from Lancaster, is accused of fatally shooting Kyle, 38, and Chad Littlefield, 35, both of Midlothian, on Feb. 2, 2013.
Kyle was reportedly helping Routh cope with post-traumatic stress disorder. They were at the shooting range at Rough Creek Lodge, a resort outside Glen Rose in Erath County, about 77 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
Pat Bridges, Stephenville’s city administrator, said city police and the Sheriff’s Department will work security and will be prepared for any protests against Kyle. A few protesters came to the Capitol in Austin on Tuesday when Gov. Greg Abbott declared “Chris Kyle Day.”
The protest was related to accusations that Kyle lied in his book about an encounter with former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. Ventura won a $1.8 million defamation lawsuit last year against the Kyle estate — a ruling that the family is appealing.
University may help
During the capital murder trial, Stephenville will close two streets near both the annex and the square surrounding the city’s 1892 courthouse.
“With all the media and visitors that will be here, it’s going to be an interesting few days — and a challenge,” said July Danley, president of the Stephenville Chamber of Commerce.
Kyle McGregor, vice president for advancement and external relations at Tarleton State University, said Wednesday that the area doesn’t usually receive national attention.
“That type of exposure is something we just don’t see often,” McGregor said. He said university employees might have roles to play, possibly helping media with communication links.
Erath County and Stephenville have had brief moments on the national stage. Through the years, there have been stories of UFO sightings in the area. And in March 2007, two dozen Ku Klux Klan members had a rally here that drew about 500 people who booed and held anti-hate signs.
Opening statements in the trial are expected next week.
Erath County prosecutors have said they will not seek the death penalty against Routh but will ask for a life sentence without parole. Defense attorneys have said they will use an insanity defense.
Area police reports documented Routh’s mental problems well before the killings. As her son’s condition worsened, Jodi Leigh Routh contacted Kyle and asked him to help.
Kyle and Littlefield invited Routh to the gun range as a form of therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.
A resort employee found Kyle and Littlefield shot and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, according to an arrest warrant. Several weapons, including semiautomatic rifles, semiautomatic handguns and revolvers, were found near the bodies.
Routh drove away from the range in Kyle’s truck. When he arrived at the home of his sister and brother-in-law in Midlothian, he told them that he had killed two people, authorities have said.
He was arrested hours later.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives and the Stephenville Empire-Tribune.
Domingo Ramirez Jr., 817-390-7763