'American Sniper' suspect told authorities he shot Kyle, friend after they 'wouldn't talk'
STEPHENVILLE (Tribune News Service) — Eddie Ray Routh felt snubbed.
He’d climbed into the truck with acclaimed former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and a buddy for an afternoon at a shooting range, and nobody had a thing to say. So he shot them.
That’s the explanation he gave for the slayings while sitting in the Erath County Jail awaiting trial on capital murder charges, according to a former sheriff’s deputy who overheard the confession.
“I heard Mr. Routh say, ‘I shot them because they wouldn’t talk to me,’” former Deputy Gene Cole, now a Belton police officer, told jurors late Friday during Routh’s capital murder trial. “‘I was just riding in the back seat of the truck and nobody would talk to me. They were just taking me to the range, so I shot them. I feel bad about it, but they wouldn’t talk to me. I’m sure they’ve forgiven me.’”
The exchange on June 22, 2013, is the first glimpse from prosecutors at a possible motive for the killings.
Kyle, 38, whose bestselling book American Sniper was recently made into a blockbuster movie, and his close friend Chad Littlefield, 35, were fatally wounded at a shooting range that Kyle had designed at the upscale Rough Creek Lodge and Resort near Glen Rose, southwest of Fort Worth.
Routh, 27, of Lancaster, a former Marine corporal who specialized in small-arms repairs, has indicated he will seek an insanity defense, which means he suffered from severe mental illness and did not know what he had done was wrong.
If convicted of capital murder, he automatically would face life in prison without parole. District Attorney Alan Nash has indicated he will not seek the death penalty.
If found not guilty by reason of insanity, Routh could face up to life in a state mental hospital.
No one denies that Routh pulled the trigger. He confessed to investigators after being arrested shortly after the Feb. 2, 2013, shootings.
But defense attorneys J. Warren St. John and Tim Moore of Fort Worth and R. Shay Isham of Stephenville have indicated that Routh had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, psychosis and personality disorders.
He told his sister that he believed people were “sucking his soul” and that he had to kill Kyle and Littlefield before they killed him. A police body camera captured his rambling negotiations a few hours later in which he talked about voodoo, anarchy, the Apocalypse and his fears that he is going insane.
Even Kyle noted problems during the drive from Lancaster to the shooting range, Routh’s defense attorneys said..
“This guy is straight-up nuts,” Kyle told Littlefield in a text message.
But Routh’s uncle James Watson said his behavior seemed normal on the morning of the shootings. Watson, 45, of Alvarado said he drove to see his nephew after Routh’s girlfriend called to say he was upset.
‘Dead man’s truck’
Watson said they smoked marijuana and sat on the porch and talked until someone showed up at the door. Routh then left without saying a word, he said, so Watson locked up the house and left.
He said Routh showed up at his house later that day, driving a big black truck.
“He was showing me a pistol that he had — a 9 mm handgun,” Watson said. “He said, ‘Check out my truck.’ He later said, ‘I’m driving a dead man’s truck.’”
Watson said he thought Routh was talking about himself — he had suffered from depression and other problems since leaving the Marines in 2010 after a four-year stint that included service in Iraq and Haiti.
“I noticed that he’d lost his desire for life,” Watson said.
The gun Routh was displaying turned out to be Kyle’s Navy handgun. The gun had been used to shoot Littlefield seven times, according to a Texas Department of Public Safety forensic expert. Routh then apparently reloaded the magazine with 15 rounds and took the weapon with him when he fled the scene in Kyle’s black Ford pickup.
Kyle was shot with a different weapon, a .45-caliber weapon. His body appeared to be about 20 feet from Littlefield’s just off the shooting range platform.
Testimony is expected to resume Monday before state District Judge Jason Cashon, despite the national Presidents Day holiday. Prosecutors are expected to rest their case early next week.
Staff writer Naomi Martin contributed to this report.
AT A GLANCE: The day in court
What happened: Prosecutors offered the first suggestion of a possible motive for the shootings of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and his friend, Chad Littlefield. A former Erath County deputy sheriff testified he heard accused killer Eddie Ray Routh say he shot the men because they wouldn’t talk to him.
What stood out: Routh’s uncle testified that Routh had suffered from depression and seemed to have lost “his desire for life” after leaving the Marines in 2010.
What’s next: Testimony will resume Monday, and Routh’s videotaped confession is expected to be shown. Prosecutors are expected to rest their case next week.
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