Millions know about Chris Kyle’s life thanks to “American Sniper,” a book and blockbuster film about the Navy SEAL. Starting Wednesday, jurors will hear about his death at a Texas firing range.
Opening statements in the trial of Eddie Ray Routh, charged with capital murder in the 2013 deaths of Kyle and Chad Littlefield, are scheduled to begin Wednesday morning at a courthouse in Erath County, Texas.
The trial comes just weeks after the release of the film about Kyle, who claimed to be the deadliest sniper in U.S. history with 160 confirmed kills in Iraq. The film has grossed more than $280 million, the most ever for a war movie, and the autobiography by the same name spent weeks on best-seller lists.
A day at the range
Kyle had already risen to fame through his book when he died on February 2, 2013. He’d been doing charitable work to help former troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and on that day he took Routh and Littlefield — both veterans — to a firing range about 90 miles southwest of Dallas.
The range is a small, remote part of the sprawling 11,000-acre Rough Creek Lodge, and the men were isolated, authorities said.
Less than two hours after they had arrived, a hunting guide found Kyle and Littlefield motionless and called 911. Kyle, 38, and Littlefield, 35, were dead when officers arrived.
Routh, an unemployed former Marine with PTSD, was gone, and so was Kyle’s black Ford pickup, police said.
Routh’s sister: ‘He’s all crazy’
Routh drove up in Kyle’s truck at his sister’s house 65 miles away, police said. She called 911, telling the operator he claimed to have killed two men.
“They went out to a shooting range. Like, he’s all crazy,” Routh’s sister told authorities.
Routh got back into the truck and hit the road again, police said. Officers caught up with him that evening at his home in a Dallas suburb.
While talking with police, he jumped back into the truck and sped off again, police say. They gave chase and stopped him after spiking his tires. He did not struggle when they arrested him, police said.
Relatives of Routh, 27, and those close to him declined interview requests from CNN. Routh’s attorney is expected to try to make the case that his client is not guilty by reason of insanity.
Since July 24, 2013, when a judge filed a gag order in the case, nobody associated with Routh’s trial has been permitted to speak to the media.
Before that order was issued, a reporter asked Capt. Jason Upshaw of the Erath County Sheriff’s Office what could have driven Routh to the alleged murders.
“I don’t know that we’ll ever know,” Upshaw said.
Routh served in the Marines from June 2006 to June 2010. His time in the military included a 2007 tour of duty in Iraq and a humanitarian mission to help the victims of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Kyle learned to shoot on hunting trips with his father, then went on to serve four combat tours in Iraq with the SEALs, though his official biography notes he also worked with Army and Marine units.
He received two Silver Stars and other commendations before leaving the Navy in 2009 after 160 confirmed kills, which he called a record for an American.
He said that while killing did not come easy at first, he knew it meant saving lives.
“The first time, you’re not even sure you can do it,” he said in the interview. “But I’m not over there looking at these people as people. I’m not wondering if he has a family. I’m just trying to keep my guys safe.”
Kyle’s story and the movie made from it have triggered broad enthusiasm but also drawn critics and doubts about his accounts.