STEPHENVILLE, Texas (AP) — Jury selection began Monday in the trial of the man accused of fatally shooting a former Navy SEAL depicted in the Oscar-nominated film “American Sniper.”
More than a dozen people were dismissed first thing Monday morning in Stephenville, Texas, where former Marine Eddie Ray Routh is charged with capital murder in the deaths of 38-year-old Chris Kyle and Kyle’s friend, 35-year-old Chad Littlefield.
A key challenge facing authorities is ensuring a fair trial just as the movie based on Kyle’s memoir continues to make millions at the box office.
The county’s top prosecutor told prospective jurors Monday that he knew many of them will have seen the movie, which depicts Kyle’s stories of serving four tours in Iraq.
“It’s hard not to have knowledge of this case,” Erath County District Attorney Alan Nash said. “It’s pervasive.”
Seeing the movie or reading Kyle’s book won’t be disqualifying on its own, according to both Nash and State District Judge Jason Cashon, who will oversee the trial.
Nash asked potential jurors if they were unable to set aside what they’d already heard about the case. No one among about 130 potential jurors in court raised their hand.
Instead of a typical Erath County jury pool of 175, about 800 jury summonses were sent out, district clerk Wanda Pringle has said. Several hundred people who weren’t eliminated due to exemptions or other factors took part in last week’s screening. The group was narrowed as potential jurors were dismissed for reasons including some who said pretrial publicity had already led them to a decision in the case.
About 260 potential jurors reported to the courthouse Monday.
Those dismissed right away were by mutual agreement of attorneys, for reasons including illness and answers they gave on a questionnaire last week, Pringle said. About 100 others were told to go home but to check in later to find out if they would be needed Tuesday.
Routh’s attorneys plan to pursue an insanity defense. Prosecutors won’t seek the death penalty. He faces life in prison without parole if convicted.
Family members have said Routh, 27, struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after leaving the Marines in 2010. The small arms technician served in Iraq and was deployed to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. Kyle took Routh to the shooting range after Routh’s mother asked if he could help her son.
About two hours after they arrived at Rough Creek Lodge and Resort on Feb. 2, 2013, an employee discovered the bodies of Kyle and Littlefield at the remote range.
In the meantime, authorities say Routh drove to his sister’s house in Kyle’s truck, telling her and her husband that he’d killed Kyle and Littlefield.
His sister told police that Routh “was out of his mind, saying people were sucking his soul and that he could smell the pigs.”
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