EASTLAND, Texas (CN) — A Texas appellate court will hear arguments this month on whether to order a new trial for the man who killed “American Sniper” Chris Kyle and a friend, a double murder defense attorneys attribute to mental illness.
A three-judge panel of the Texas 11th Court of Appeals will hear 35 minutes of legal arguments on June 30.
Jurors on Feb. 25, 2015 convicted Eddie Ray Routh of murdering Kyle, 38, and Chad Littlefield, 35, good Samaritans who were trying to help a Marine veteran by taking him to a shooting range. They befriended the troubled veteran at the request of Routh’s mother, and Routh, then 25, riddled them with a total of 13 bullets.
It took jurors just two and a half hours to reject Routh’s insanity plea and convict him of capital murder. He was automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 2013 murders and almost immediately filed a notice of appeal.
Ft. Worth attorney Warren St. John insists his client was insane at the time of the crimes, that Routh “did not know his conduct was wrong.”
St. John seeks reversal of the guilty verdict and a new trial based on two rulings by 266th State District Judge Jason Cashon.
During the 2015 murder trial, defense attorneys portrayed the former Marine as a schizophrenic who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and said that when he killed Kyle and Littlefield he was in the grip of a psychosis “so severe that he didn’t know what he was doing was wrong.”
“It is clear the appellant met his burden of proof to show that he was insane at the time of the offense, but the jury chose to disregard Mr. Routh’s severe mental illness,” the 66-page appeal states.
In advance arguments to the court, Erath County District Attorney Alan Nash rebuffed Routh’s claims, saying the overwhelming evidence is sufficient to support the jury’s rejection of Routh’s insanity defense.
“The jury was entitled to disbelieve expert testimony diagnosing appellant with a severe mental disease or defect, and the jury could conclude that appellant knew his conduct in murdering Littlefield and Kyle was wrong,” Nash wrote.
Prosecutors acknowledged during closing arguments that Routh was “a weird, weird guy … but that’s not mental illness,” Nash said.
Prosecutors said at trial that Routh was a deliberate killer who waited for the “opportune time” to shoot the two friends in cold blood. That time came when Kyle’s magazine emptied during target practice and Routh seized the moment to shoot both men in the back.
Routh did not testify.
Nash also disputed Routh’s claim on appeal that his supposed “psychotic state” precluded him from being interviewed by a Texas Ranger investigator immediately after the murders, 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.
The interview did not violate Routh’s constitutional rights, and curative steps were taken that left no room for harmful inferences against the defendant, the prosecutor argued.
“In addition, if the trial court erred in admitting the statements, evidence of appellant’s guilt was so overwhelming, independent of the statements, that such error did not substantially affect the jury’s finding of guilt,” Nash’s brief states.
But Routh’s attorneys say the jury should not have heard statements Routh made to the Texas Ranger immediately after the murders because he did not understand that he could terminate the interview.
“Mr. Routh was in a psychotic state,” the appeal states. “The officer used a method to induce the appellant to give a statement that was in violation of the due process clause of the state and federal constitutions.”
The appeal also claims the jury instructions to disregard the vial did not cure the harm created by the prosecutor.
Routh’s defense attorney has not responded to requests for comment.
Nash and Routh’s attorney both requested oral arguments before the Eastland-based appellate court.
Routh remains incarcerated at the Louis C. Powledge Unit, a medium-security prison in Palestine, Texas.
Kyle is the subject of the hit movie “American Sniper,” based on his autobiography of the same name. The former Navy SEAL was known as the most lethal sniper in U.S. history.
The Navy is investigating allegations that he may have embellished his medal count in his book, after an online news site published documents that contradicted his claims.
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