Trial of Marine accused of American Sniper death set to open

2015-02-10 23:08


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Washington - A troubled former Marine accused of killing the US Navy Seal whose life story inspired the Oscar-nominated blockbuster American Sniper goes on trial for murder on Wednesday after a judge denied requests to delay the case.

Eddie Ray Routh, 27, is accused of gunning down US sniper Chris Kyle at a Texas shooting range in February, 2013, along with another man, Chad Littlefield.

Kyle, officially credited with killing 160 people during four tours in Iraq during his military career, has been lionised in Clint Eastwood's controversial movie starring Bradley Cooper as the soldier.

The 38-year-old had been helping Routh, reported to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, when the shooting took place.

After the shooting, Routh took Kyle's truck and was later arrested at his sister home. He is alleged to have confessed to the killings after complaining that "people were sucking his soul and that he could smell the pigs".

Lawyers for Routh are expected to pursue a defence of insanity in light of the Marine's troubled condition.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, have said they will not seek the death penalty for Kyle's alleged killer when what is expected to be a two-week trial gets under way with opening arguments on Wednesday.

Jury selection began last week after an application to have the trial delayed by Routh's lawyers was dismissed.

Fair trial possible?

Lawyers had questioned whether Routh could receive a fair trial in the small rural town of Stephenville, roughly 100 miles southwest of Dallas, given the success of "American Sniper" and the widely held view of Kyle as a hero.

Legal experts are divided over whether Routh can expect a fair trial.

Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University, told the Los Angeles Times she believed the decision not to change the venue for the trial was "problematic" given the runaway success of American Sniper.

"This is always an issue, but you can multiply that by a thousand with Chris Kyle," Denno told the Times, adding that in Texas, "the closer you get to the actual locale, the more raw the emotions are and the more personalised."

A pool of several hundred jurors was whittled down to 12 people on Monday after potential panellists were grilled by attorneys including Warren St John, who is representing Routh.

St John urged jurors to judge Routh as "a person - he's not some picture on television".

"Chris Kyle was a hero," St John said. "But no matter what you've read or seen, no matter how much it might hurt your heart that he lost his life, if you had to vote right now ... [Routh] would be innocent," St John told jurors, citing Routh's troubled mental condition at the time of the double slaying.

Eastwood's film, based on Kyle's book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in US Military History, has smashed a series of box office records on the way to garnering six Oscar nominations.

However, the film, which has so far earned more than $280m to become the highest grossing war film in history, has attracted controversy for its depiction of Kyle and its view of the Iraq War.

Critics claim it presents a simplistic, black and white view of the Iraq conflict, and glosses over Kyle's view of references to Iraqis in his memoir as "savages".

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