‘American Sniper’ Killer |Argues for New Trial

     EASTLAND, Texas (CN) — An attorney for the ex-Marine convicted of killing “American Sniper” Chris Kyle and a friend in 2013, spent Thursday morning arguing for a new trial, but backed away from claims that Eddie Ray Routh suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
     A Texas jury convicted Routh, 28, on February 25, 2015, for the murders of Kyle and Chad Littlefield. The two friends had been trying to help the troubled veteran with a therapeutic outing at an upscale shooting range before the day turned deadly.
     Routh was sentenced to life in prison without parole and his attorney J. Warren St. John appealed the sentence.
     St. John told a three-judge panel of Texas’ 11th Court of Appeals during 30 minutes of arguments Thursday that jurors “made the legally incorrect decision.”
     “Eddie was insane at the time of the offense,” St. John argued.
     St. John used most of his 15 minutes to convince the panel that Routh’s conviction should be overturned because he didn’t know his conduct was wrong at the time of the murders.
     Erath County District Attorney Alan Nash and Assistant Attorney General Jane Starnes had 15 minutes to present their arguments.
     “There’s no doubt that my client took the life of Mr. Kyle and Mr. Littlefield, but we believe our client suffered from schizophrenia,” St. John, a Ft. Worth-based attorney, said.
     St. John said that Routh met the burden of legal insanity at trial and asked the panel to review video recordings of Routh’s “bizarre behavior,” which included talk of pig men, the apocalypse and Routh questioning his own sanity.
     He also suggested that Routh’s behavior on the day of the killings was not affected by marijuana, a jab at a prosecution theory arguing that Routh wasn’t insane, but suffered only from a marijuana-induced psychosis.
     “If Eddie was intoxicated he wouldn’t have been able to shoot Chris Kyle and drive his truck,” St. John said.
     The former Navy SEAL was known as the most lethal sniper in U.S. history. He and Littlefield were shot a total of 13 times, with two pistols, as they had their backs toward him, according to trial testimony.
     Kyle’s parents attended Thursday’s hearing in Eastland, about 125 miles west of Dallas. Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle, was not present.
     “I know it’s a tough decision,” St. John said. “But this court has an obligation to make sure the correct decision is made.”
     Nash urged the three judges to reject Routh’s insanity defense, just as jurors had in Stephenville 16 months before.
     “The record and the law support the jury’s rejection of that argument,” he said. “The state met its burden with overwhelming evidence.”
     Nash said prosecutors revealed weaknesses to Routh’s insanity defense that gave jurors “the right to disbelieve defense expert testimony.”
     “Even the evidence was subjected to vigorous cross-examination,” the district attorney said. He argued that Routh lied to the defense’s medical expert about his marijuana use, which altered the doctor’s diagnosis of him.
     “The trial court got it right,” Nash said.
     Nash also disputed claims that the judge abused his discretion by refusing to grant a mistrial when the prosecutor introduced a glass vial at trial that was not entered into evidence, and that Routh never waived his right to remain silent in an interview with a Texas Ranger immediately after the crime.
     Even if there were an error in admitting his statement at trial, there was no harm, he argued. Additionally, curative steps were taken regarding the vial, including the removal of it as evidence, and jury instructions to disregard it.
     But St. John told the appellate panel that there is no evidence that Routh ever waived his Fifth Amendment right.
     After the hearing, St. John told Courthouse News that he thinks the court will make a fair assessment.
     “I still believe that insanity was shown at trial. I think the court’s got a really tough decision to say it’s not insanity.
     “Also, it’s clear that Eddie never waived his right to remain silent. There’s no evidence of that at all,” St. John said.
     He said that he communicates with Routh, and that his client is aware of the appellate proceedings.
     Routh remains incarcerated at the Louis C. Powledge Unit, a medium-security prison in Palestine, Texas.
     The panel members were Chief Justice Jim Wright, Mike Willson and John Bailey.
     The appellate court’s ruling, expected in the coming months, can be appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court.
     Kyle is the subject of the hit movie “American Sniper,” based on his autobiography of the same name.

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