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The former Marine who shot and killed Chris Kyle, the inspiration for the movie "American Sniper," may have been mentally ill — but he still knew right from wrong, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday. A defense lawyer said the ex-Marine was "in the grip of a psychosis."
The contrasting portrayals came during opening statements in the trial of Eddie Ray Routh, who killed Kyle and a friend at a Texas gun range in February 2013 and is accused of capital murder. The trial began less than two weeks before "American Sniper" contends for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
Routh, who has admitted killing the men, faces life in prison without parole if the jury rejects his insanity claim.
Alan Nash, the district attorney, told jurors that Routh, 27, smoked marijuana and drank whiskey on the morning before he killed Kyle and Chad Littlefield. He rejected any defense on the basis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
"The evidence will show that mental illnesses, even the ones that this defense may or may not have, don't deprive people from the ability to be good citizens to know right from wrong, to obey the law," Nash said. "And at the very least not murder people."
He described the killings in detail: Kyle was shot five times in the back and the side and once in the head, while Littlefield was shot in the back, a hand, his face and his head. He said Routh bragged about the killings to his sister.
Kyle's brother could be seen with his head down, rubbing his temples as a relative comforted him, as the lodge employee who discovered the bodies described how he and two other employees frantically tried to save both men — Kyle with a defibrillator and Littlefield with CPR.
Tim Moore, one of Routh's lawyers, told the jury that Routh was controlled by a psychosis so severe that "he did not know what he was doing was wrong." In fact, he said, during the drive to the gun range, Kyle texted Littlefield: "This dude is straight-up nuts."
"At the time of this tragedy, Eddie Routh was insane," the lawyer said. "Not only did he not know his conduct was wrong, he thought he had to take their lives because his was in danger."
Testimony dramatically opened in the morning with Kyle's widow, Taya, who fought tears as she described the life she had with her husband.
The last time she saw him, she said, "We said we loved each other and gave each other a kiss and a hug."
After a lunch break, Taya Kyle described how strict her husband had been about gun safety — both personally and when it came to her and their children, who had gone shooting with him.
Asked on cross-examination whether he would take someone to a gun range if he or she were intoxicated, Kyle said it depended: "If they were falling over, of course not." But she said it wasn't unheard of for people on those trips to have a drink beforehand.
The second witness was Judy Littlefield, Chad's mother. She remained mostly composed except for an emotional moment when she mentioned that Wednesday would have been Chad's 38th birthday. While Chad wasn't in the military, he had a "passion for vets," she said.
Leo Juarez and M. Alex Johnson contributed to this report.