Stephenville, Texas: A former U.S. Marine was in the midst of a paranoid psychotic episode when he fatally shot Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL whose best-selling autobiography was turned into the hit movie "American Sniper," his lawyer told a Texas jury on Wednesday.
Opening statements began in the trial of Eddie Ray Routh, 27, charged with murdering Kyle, who was credited with the most kills of any U.S. sniper, as well as Kyle`s friend and neighbor Chad Littlefield in February 2013 at a shooting range about 70 miles (110 km) southwest of Fort Worth.
Prosecutors told the jury of 10 women and two men in rural Erath County that Routh was aware of what he was doing and acted "knowingly and intentionally" when he gunned down Kyle and Littlefield.
Defense attorneys said Routh was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by overseas deployments. They said when he killed them, Routh did not know it was wrong.
Routh was taken to the range by Kyle, who had been helping fellow veterans heal the mental scars stemming from combat.
While riding in the truck, Kyle sent a text message to Littlefield, who was sitting next to him in front, about Routh, sitting in back. The message read: "This dude is straight up nuts," defense attorney Tim Moore told the jurors.
Erath County District Attorney Alan Nash said evidence shows that Routh shot the two men multiple times in the back and stole the truck and weapons, knowing it was wrong.
"These are the two ultimate issues that you are going to have to decide," Nash told jurors, saying Routh acted deliberately after the crime as he planned an escape to Oklahoma.
Nash said evidence will show Routh served as a weapons tech in a safe zone in Iraq. But the defense told the jury that Routh was severely affected mentally by his earthquake relief efforts with the Marines in Haiti in 2010.
Routh has been jailed on $3 million bond.
The trial is expected to take about two weeks. If Routh is convicted, prosecutors said they will seek a life sentence.
Kyle`s widow, Taya, was the first witness called in the trial and said her husband was renowned for his skills as a sniper and soldier.
“He was good at what he did," she said, choking back tears at points in her testimony as she recounted life with him and learning of his death.
She said Kyle sounded irritated when she spoke to him while he was out with Routh, and thought something was wrong. She said Kyle battled PTSD and wanted to help veterans with their mental struggles, taking them out for shooting and discussions.
“They can really talk and commiserate and get some healing done,” she said.
"American Sniper," directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper, has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture.