'American Sniper' Murder Trial: 5 Things to Know About the Verdict

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on February 25, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Eddie Ray Routh has been found guilty of murdering former U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and Kyle's friend Chad Littlefield. The jury sentenced Routh, a former U.S. Marine, to life in prison without the possibility of parole, concluding what had been dubbed the "American Sniper" trial after Kyle's autobiography and subsequent blockbuster movie of the same name.

Coinciding with the release of the Clint Eastwood-directed movie depicting Kyle's life and service as a sniper in Iraq, Routh's murder trial gained widespread media coverage. Other veterans, some biopic subjects themselves, have been vocal in their support for Kyle and in their outrage at his killer.

Although the verdict was read Tuesday night, the story isn't quite over yet. Here are five things to know about what the jury decided and where the case goes from here:

1. The Killing.

Routh's defense attorneys conceded that their client killed Kyle and Littlefield at a Texas gun range in February 2013. After he retired from active duty, Kyle helped counsel other veterans, taking many on shooting trips. According to prosecutors, Routh ambushed Kyle and Littlefield after Kyle had emptied his own weapon during a round of target practice. Routh later confessed to the killing to officers and reporters.

2. The Trial.

Routh pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, claiming that, at the time of the killing, he was not able to distinguish between right and wrong. Texas is one of many states to follow what is known as the M'Naghten Rule, which defines legal insanity as the inability to realize that a criminal act is wrong.

Routh's attorneys submitted extensive evidence of his past paranoid episodes, hospitalizations, and his diagnosis as psychotic to support their insanity defense. Prosecutors, in turn, pointed to the calculated nature of the attack and Routh's actions afterward (including stealing Kyle's truck and making a trip to Taco Bell) as evidence that Routh understood what he was doing.

3. The Verdict.

It only took jurors a little over two hours to hand down a guilty verdict on both murder counts, an unusually short time given the nature of the charges and the legal issues involved. Many jury deliberations, especially in capital cases, can take days or weeks. Juries in Texas murder cases are made up of 12 people who must vote unanimously in order to convict.

4. The Punishment.

Prosecutors in the case did not seek the death penalty against Routh. Instead, the jury foreman read Routh's sentence of life in prison after announcing the verdict. Had this been a capital punishment case, there would be a second phase of Routh's trial to determine whether he would receive the death penalty.

5. What's Next?

Defense attorneys for Routh said they will appeal his conviction, and have 30 days to file a Notice of Appeal. The appeal will likely ask a higher court to review the evidence supporting Routh insanity defense. In the meantime, Routh will remain incarcerated.

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