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Sniper Trial Could Be In Jury's Hands Soon

KELLLY MCEVERS, HOST:

In Texas, a jury has begun deliberating in the murder trial of Eddie Ray Routh. Routh is charged with killing former Navy Seal Chris Kyle and his friend, Chad Littlefield, at a gun range in 2013. Kyle, of course, was the subject of the movie "American Sniper." Routh pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and the question of his mental state has been a major topic during the trial. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has been in court in Stephenville, Texas. And Wade, let's start with the closing arguments this evening. How did the prosecution address Routh's insanity plea in their final statements to the jury?

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Well, District Attorney Alan Nash and his assistants heaped scorn and ridicule on Eddie Routh and his claim that he was mentally ill. They accused him of having a deep well of excuses and of making up different stories depending on who he was talking to - the police, the psychiatrist or a lawyer. After Routh murdered Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield, he stole Kyle's truck and then he went to the Taco Bell drive-through. Prosecutor Jane Starnes said that fact that Routh could go through the drive-through and order and pay proved he was not insane because he could order and pay, therefore he was in control of his faculties. Prosecutors blamed Routh's mental problems on his regular use of marijuana. "Does that sound like someone who's insane? No, that sounds like somebody who's got the munchies and has to get his Taco Bell on," Starnes told the jury.

Prosecutors reminded jurors how Routh tried to flee law enforcement in Kyle's stolen truck, how he repeatedly admitted to investigators that he knew killing Kyle and Littlefield was the wrong thing to do. And as the District Attorney Alan Nash summed up the case, he painted Routh as kind of a master manipulator who always faked his mental illness, and he compelled the jury not to let him get away with murder. "This defendant gunned down two men in cold blood in our county," Nash shouted at the jury, "find him guilty."

MCEVERS: And what about the defense? How did Routh's mental state factor into their closing arguments?

GOODWYN: Well, they took jurors through the evidence of Routh's history of mental illness - his multiple trips to Dallas psychiatric hospitals and the VA hospital, his paranoid delusions where he once held his girlfriend and another friend of hers inside their apartment because he believed there were people outside the apartment that were waiting to kill them. Routh began to see things. He saw his friends and neighbors turning into pig hybrid humans - pig-human hybrids or coworkers that had become cannibals, and of course the text that Chris Kyle sent to Chad Littlefield as they rode in the truck with Routh out to the gun range. This dude is straight up nuts, Kyle texted.

And then there's the incomprehensibility of the murders themselves. I mean, why kill these two guys you don't know who are trying to be nice to you? It doesn't make any sense.

MCEVERS: And Wade, quickly, what is this case likely to come down to? I mean, is it going to be - hinge on this insanity issue or something else?

GOODWYN: I think case is likely to come down to jurors in a small Texas town who are determined to honor a man they remember as one of the great American battlefield heroes, and I suspect that's going to mean sending the murderer not to a hospital for the criminally insane, but to a Texas state prison for the rest of his life.

MCEVERS: Thanks, Wade.

GOODWYN: My pleasure.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn in Stephenville, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.