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It's OK If Jurors In Chris Kyle Murder Trial Saw 'American Sniper,' Judge Says

Doualy Xaykaothao
Stephenville is known as the "Cowboy Capitol of the World."

Another 400 potential jurors have been summoned Friday to the courthouse in Stephenville in Erath County for the murder trial of Eddie Ray Routh. 

He’s accused of killing Chad Littlefield and Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL veteran whose book American Sniper is now a hit movie.

To find out what locals are talking about, grab a coffee at Jake and Dorothy’s Café or slip inside Greer’s Ranch Café, which shares an alleyway next to all the action at the Donald R. Jones Justice Center.

Kodi Centers, 19, sat down for a burger.

“I’m glad I’m not with the jury,” he said. “I wouldn’t know which way to go.”

On Thursday, nearly 40 people were either excused, exempted or disqualified from the jury box, some because they said they couldn’t be impartial. A judge has told potential jurors they won't be dismissed if they have seen or read American Sniper.

It’s hard not to find anyone who hasn’t heard of local legend Chris Kyle, and his 160 kills. You can’t even get tickets to see American Sniper because it’s sold out, says Centers.

“I do really want to see it,” Centers said. “I watch a lot of movies like that. I follow all the Sniper trilogies. For one, it’s real interesting. And also I’d like to get to know the man. … I’ve read the book repeatedly. I love the book. I don’t know how the movie will play off it.”

He loves guns -- and, no question, his country too.

'Two brilliant young men'

“If you will not stand behind our military,” Centers said. “I honestly think some of those people should be the ones standing in front of it.”

Across the table is Sandy Steele, also from Stephenville. 

“It’s sad that it happened,” she said. “Two brilliant young men were gunned down that day. But when a person has PTSD, you just really don’t know what can happen.”  

Eddie Ray Routh, the 27-year-old defendant, had a history of post-traumatic stress disorder. He served in Iraq and Haiti.

“Just hopefully they get the facts,” Steele said. “And he’ll have to serve the time or whatever, but you know as Christians we believe when you follow the Bible and do what it says, then you can be forgiven. And I believe he has been, as far as eternity’s concerned.”

'People connect with the Chris Kyle story'

Over at nearby Tarleton State University, the executive director of the School of Criminology --- Professor Alex del Carmen -- says it’s going to be extremely difficult, but not impossible for Routh to get a fair trial.

“The challenges before us are that not only is it's a patriotic town, but also of course we have the movie that was just released and has been a blockbuster all over the U.S. and the world,” he said. “I think people connect with the Chris Kyle story and they’re able to sympathize with the victim’s families.”

Even moving the trial would have been a challenge, he says.

“Where in the U.S. could you offer this defendant a fair trial,” del Carmen said. “With social media covering the trial the way that it has already, before it even starts, it’s going to be very hard to isolate individuals that haven’t been exposed to the Chris Kyle story.”

Routh’s attorneys say he will plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

The trial is expected to begin Wednesday.

Doualy Xaykaothao is a newscaster and reporter for NPR, based in Culver City. She returned to NPR for this role in 2018, and is responsible for writing, producing, and delivering national newscasts. She also reports on breaking news stories for NPR.