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Dramatic Evidence in ‘American Sniper’ Trial

STEPHENVILLE, Texas (CN) - Just before being gunned down by a troubled Marine veteran at a Texas gun range, Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle described his killer as "straight up nut," in a cryptic text message sent to his friend Chad Littlefield, who also died, a defense attorney told jurors Wednesday.

Littlefield, also slain that day at the hands of Eddie Ray Routh, responded: "He's sitting right behind me. Watch my six."

In opening statements Wednesday in rural Erath County, prosecutors painted a portrait of Routh as a deliberate killer who admitted shooting the two men to death, then fleeing in Kyle's stolen Ford truck. Prosecutors said he made a stop at Taco Bell for a burrito, then drove to his sister's house, where he confessed to murdering two men.

Routh's attorneys claim the 27-year-old 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, in February 2012.

"He thought he had to take their lives because in his psychosis, he thought that they were going to take his," Ft. Worth attorney Tim Moore said.

Prosecutors said Routh smoked "wet marijuana" and drank whiskey the morning of the killings, and that while he struggled with mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder, he knew the murders were wrong.

"We believe the evidence will establish that this defendant intentionally caused the deaths of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield in the same criminal episode," Erath County District Attorney Allen Nash said. "The two core issues are: Did he intentionally cause the death of these two men, and did he know what he did was wrong?"

Routh sat emotionless next to his attorneys, clean-shaven, wearing black-rimmed glasses and taking notes throughout most of the day.

Jurors sat riveted by Taya Kyle's testimony as she described her husband's family life, illustrious military service, and the last day she saw him alive.

"Who were you married to?" Assistant Attorney General Jane Starnes asked the widow and mother of two.

"Chris Kyle," she said softly, her voice cracking as she fought back tears.

Kyle, famous for being the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, is the subject of the Academy Award-nominated movie, "American Sniper," based on his 2012 autobiography. It has grossed nearly $300 million at the box office since its December 2014 release.

"He was a good shot," his 40-year-old widow said on the witness stand Wednesday morning.

The couple married in 2002 and moved to Texas after Kyle returned to civilian life, where he opened a law enforcement training business, started a family, and had a passion for spending time with other veterans.

That passion was well-known in the community, leading Routh's mother, Jodi Routh, to reach out to Kyle for help with her son.

Routh's attorneys said the former Marine, discharged from the service in 2010, had been in and out of Veteran's Administration hospitals since 2011, having been diagnosed with psychosis and severe mental illness.

Kyle and Littlefield, who also enjoyed working with veterans, made plans to take Routh on a one-hour drive to Rough Creek Lodge, an 11,000acre ranch-style resort spanning three Texas counties that is equipped with a shooting range. Kyle helped Rough Creek staff set up their gun range and would regularly visit the facility with his family and clients.

Justin Nabors, 25, a former part-time wildlife guide at the lodge, told jurors he was the first to discover the two friends' bloody bodies on the floor of the gun range after a boy visiting the facility heard Kyle was there and wanted to meet him.

"Chris was face down, his nose in the dirt. Chad was on his back," Nabors said, adding that the 10-to-12-year-old boy also witnessed the bloody scene.

Though Nabors said that neither Kyle nor Littlefield showed any signs of life, employees cut both men's shirts and tried to resuscitate them using a defibrillator and chest compressions while waiting for paramedics.

First responders from the nearby Summersville County Fire Department testified that both men were dead upon their arrival.

Firefighter and paramedic Matthew Green said he noticed right away that Littlefield's skin color was not normal and that there was "some brain matter and skull matter by him."

"He was quite cold," Green said.

Taya Kyle sobbed quietly as prosecutors showed jurors more than 30 gory crime scene photos showing both victims covered in blood. Some jurors clutched tissues, appearing visibly upset. At least five jurors wept.

Judge Jason Cashon warned the courtroom before allowing the photos to be presented that any audible reaction to the photos would not be allowed.

Taya Kyle said she last saw her husband in the hallway of their Midlothian, Texas home as they parted ways just after noon that day.

"We were both at the house and both trying to get to where we had to go," she said. "We just said we loved each other and gave each other a kiss like we always did."

She learned later that night, surrounded by friends and family who converged on their home after word spread that something had happened, that Kyle was dead. She said she broke the news to her two young children after they returned the next day from a sleepover.

Littlefield's mother, Judy Littlefield, tearfully told jurors that the first day of trial is her son's birthday. He would have been 38.

Routh faces an automatic life sentence without parole if he is convicted of capital murder. His attorneys say he is not guilty by reason of insanity.

Outside the courtroom, dozens of news camera set up shop in a parking lot across the street from the Donald R. Jones Justice Center. Bodie Parks, a Stephenville resident, walked around the town square carrying a sign stating: "Justice."

"We're promoting justice," Parks said. "Justice for everybody, but that's up to the jury."

Testimony will continue Thursday in Erath County's 266th District Court. The capital murder trial is expected to last two weeks.

Judge Cashon issued a sweeping order before trial prohibiting all electronic devices from the courtroom.

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