EASTLAND, Texas (CN) – A Texas appeals court ruled Friday that the ex-marine convicted of killing “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle and his friend in 2013 does not deserve a new trial, rejecting his insanity defense and claims of trial errors.
A three-judge panel of Texas’ 11th Court of Appeals concluded that “there is more than a scintilla of evidence to support the jury’s rejection of appellant’s insanity defense.”
A jury convicted Eddie Ray Routh, 29, on Feb. 25, 2015, for the murders of Kyle and Chad Littlefield. The two friends had taken Routh on what was supposed to be a therapeutic outing at an upscale shooting range before the day turned deadly.
Kyle, a 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 is the subject of the 2014 hit movie “American Sniper,” based on his 2012 autobiography of the same name.
Routh was sentenced to life in prison without parole, but continued to claim on appeal that he was insane at the time of the murders. His attorney, J. Warren St. John, told the three-judge panel at a June hearing that jurors “made the legally incorrect decision” when they found Routh guilty.
“Eddie was insane at the time of the offense,” St. John said at oral arguments.
St. John also claimed that the trial court should have suppressed statements Routh made to a Texas Ranger while he was in “a psychotic state” and 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.
On Friday, the appeals court found that Routh “understood his rights and made a free and deliberate choice to waive his rights.”
“We also note that there was no evidence that the police coerced appellant into giving a statement or induced him with any type of promises or favorable treatment,” Chief Justice Jim Wright wrote for a three-judge panel.
The 11th Court of Appeals also ruled that trial court instructions for jurors to disregard the vial, and the prosecutor’s explanation of the mistake to the jury, were sufficient to cure any harm created.
“The prosecutor and the chemist explained the mistake to the jury; the vial was withdrawn from evidence; and the trial court instructed the jury to disregard any testimony regarding the vial being used in conjunction with a syringe,” Wright wrote. “Accordingly, we cannot conclude that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied appellant’s request for a mistrial.”
Routh’s attorney did not return a message seeking comment Friday morning.
At trial, jurors saw graphic crime scene and autopsy photos of the two slain men, viewed police dash cam footage and heard from at least 35 witnesses.
They heard from the killer himself through a videotaped police confession and in a tense stand-off with authorities, in which he makes bizarre comments about the apocalypse, hell and voodoo.
Defense experts said Routh believed Kyle and Littlefield were pig assassins, that his neighbor was a member of the Mexican mafia who ate his excrement through the pipes, and that his co-workers were cannibals.
Routh declined to testify on his own behalf.
His attorneys built up the insanity defense throughout the two-week trial in Stephenville, Texas, claiming Routh suffered from schizophrenia, PTSD, and at the time of the murders, was in the grip of a psychosis “so severe that he didn't know what he was doing was wrong” when he killed Kyle, 38, and Littlefield, 35.
Prosecutors countered that claim with they own assertions that the troubled veteran was a heavy marijuana user who suffered only from a cannabis-induced psychosis and alcohol abuse.
They presented experts who claimed Routh had a habit of faking symptoms to bilk the system, and that he knew what he was doing when he shot the men in the back. He admitted he killed them, then stole Kyle’s truck and eventually led police on a high-speed chase, the prosecutors said.
“I think we can all agree that Eddie has something wrong with him,” Assistant Attorney General Jane Starnes said at trial. “He's a weird, weird guy ... but that's not mental illness.”
Starnes ended the state’s case by arguing that Routh deliberately murdered the two men in a way “that was calculated and that was cold. It wasn't accidental.”
She said that Routh fired two more shots into Littlefield as he lay twitching in a pool of blood and after firing six deadly shots at Kyle.
“This was not to prevent him from getting up, but to finish him off,” she said. “He didn't want Chad dead. He wanted Chad dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, dead. And he wanted the same for Chris.”
Routh remains incarcerated at the Louis C. Powledge Unit, a medium-security prison in Palestine, Texas, that also houses the fundamentalist religious leader and child rapist Warren Jeffs, who is also serving a life sentence.
Routh can file a petition for review to the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin, which has discretion to accept the case for review or let the Eastland court ruling stand.
Erath County District Attorney Alan Nash praised Friday’s ruling in a statement.
“I am proud of the work done by law enforcement, led by Texas Ranger Danny Briley, in providing us with evidence to convict the murderer and have it stand up on appeal,” Nash said. “I remain grateful for the assistance of Jane Starnes of the Texas Attorney General’s Office in preparing and presenting the case at trial.”
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