'American Sniper' Murder: Town Believes Fair Trial Possible

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STEPHENVILLE, Texas — It's hard to find anyone in Stephenville who doesn't know the name Chris Kyle.

Some remember Kyle’s days at the local university, Tarleton State, in the 1990s, where he was well-known for his rodeo skills, and when he worked at a local ranch. His hometown, Midlothian, a Dallas suburb, is 80 miles away.

Many here learned about Kyle after he served four tours in Iraq, when his autobiography, “American Sniper,” was published in January of 2012. The next month, Tarleton honored him as a "distinguished young alumnus."

Then practically everyone else in Stephenville became familiar with Kyle on Feb. 2, 2013, after the former Navy SEAL and his friend, Chad Littlefield, were gunned down at the Rough Creek Lodge shooting range 20 miles outside this city of about 17,000, just southwest of Ft. Worth.

Two years later, Texas Governor Greg Abbot proclaimed February 2nd "Chis Kyle Day," the only movie theater in Stephenville sold out nearly every showing of the film “American Sniper” for three weeks after its release, and jury selection began in the trial of Kyle's alleged killer.

But locals insist: the trial will be fair. Eddie Ray Routh, a 27-year-old former Marine, is charged with capital murder in the deaths of the men. Jury selection began Thursday.

"The people here are objective, conscientious and diverse, just like they are everywhere else," said Jon Koonsman, a sixth generation rancher and freelance writer in the area. "We've got academics, professionals and blue collar workers."

Routh's defense attorneys plan to argue he is not guilty by reason of insanity. They tried unsuccessfully to move and delay the trial, arguing that Kyle is too popular in Erath County for an impartial jury to be found.

"The people here are objective, conscientious and diverse, just like they are everywhere else"

Mike Snipes, a former Texas judge, prosecutor and now a criminal defense attorney, said the movie and book are so popular it likely wouldn't matter where the trial is held.

"Ultimately whether the trial is in Stephenville, The Bronx or Beverly Hills, people are people and you’re supposed to be able to find fair and impartial jurors wherever the case may be," Snipes said.

Local officials sent out more than four times the typical number of jury duty summons ahead of the Routh trial. The judge and attorneys should be able to find 14 impartial jurors out of a pool of 800 people, Snipes said.

"There are fair people here," said Stephenie Powell, who added that her son-in-law was on the same Navy ship as Kyle. "I know he’ll be done justice. I just want to see all three families finally get the answers they deserve."

Others were doubtful. Like Tammy Helms, who said flat-out: "I really don’t think he will" get a fair trial.

"Because of the movie," Helms said in a brief explanation, adding: "This is Texas."

The Stephenville, Texas, Courthouse where Chris Kyle's alleged killed, Eddie Ray Routh, will be tried.