Dan Malone: Crazy, or straight up nuts?

By Dan Malone

Contributing Editor

Eddie Ray Routh and his mother, Jodi. (Photo courtesy of the Routh family)

Eddie Ray Routh in his Marine uniform and his mother, Jodi. (Photo courtesy of the Routh family)

“That’s Eddie being Eddie.”

That phrase, or some version of it, is how people who know accused killer Eddie Ray Routh explain his strange beliefs and manner of speaking.

When he babbles about “pig assassins,” “pig-human hybrids,” the “smell of love and hate,” ”pigs sucking his soul,” coprophagic cannibals or trading his soul for a truck – that’s just Eddie being himself, they say. Maybe so.

The quotes above are taken from a live blog reported by Tarleton State University journalism and broadcasting students covering the “American Sniper” murder trial in Stephenville. Their beginning-to-end updates have turned out to be the most comprehensive, minute-by-minute account of what’s going on in near real time. You can follow it at http://www.texannews.net/live-blog-texas-v-routh/.

Bethany Kyle, the editor of Texan News Service at Tarleton, has been sitting though the proceedings. She wrote a compelling story this weekend about the head-twisters who’ve been paid thousands of dollars by Routh’s defense team and prosecutors to find out if he’s plain crazy or just crafty.  See it at http://www.texannews.net/forensic-psychologist-psychiatrists-differ-in-opinion-of-rouths-mental-state/.

Her lead summarized the situation in just four words: “Three doctors, three diagnoses.”

And a chart she created paints a good picture of how each of the three mental health experts see the man accused of killing “American Sniper” Chris Kyle and his friend, Chad Littlefield, in a fury of gunfire at Rough Creek Lodge on Feb. 2, 2013.

A psychiatrist for the defense labeled Routh schizophrenic. Another psychiatrist for the state said he had a mood disorder and was under the influence of marijuana and, secondarily, alchohol. The psychologist who spent the most time with Routh, some eight hours over two days, came up with a five-item laundry list of mental issues, ranging from “personality disorder” to “substance-induced psychotic disorder.”

None of the three, however, thought the former Marine suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder – a diagnosis recorded in his medical records at the Dallas Veteran’s Administration hospital where he was treated and released just a few days before the murders.

Then there’s Kyle’s own diagnosis, which he texted to Littlefield as they drove Routh to Rough Creek: “This dude is straight up nuts.”

Where Routh falls on this continuum of crazy is probably something that no one who’s not on that train can ever pinpoint. It doesn’t appear, however, that he was well-hinged on the frame of reality. How else could he come to conclude that two men who were trying to help him were actually trying to kill him – and that he had to kill them first to survive? That seems straight up nuts to me.

My wife and I have had the good fortune to have friends and relatives, good-hearted people everyone of them, who struggle with very serious mental illnesses. Loving someone who is delusional – as I assume Eddie’s family loves him – is no stroll through a garden. When someone in your life looks just fine on the outside but is a jumbled mess of delusions inside — and when that same person is insisting that it’s you who’s straight up nuts instead — it creates a dissonance that challenges your grasp of reality.

The trial had been scheduled to resume Monday morning. But court officials decided to push it back a day because of the ice and sleet. They hope the case will resume Tuesday morning, call their final witnesses and make closing arguments. Then,the 10 women and two men selected to hear the case will decide whether Routh had a severe mental disease or defect that left him incapable of knowing that killing the two men was wrong – that could be a tough call to make.

The only thing easy here is the jury won’t have to decide whether Routh should be executed for the murders. Prosecutors decided against seeking the death penalty. Maybe when the trial is over and the gag order expires, they’ll talk about why they made that decision. I wonder if they thought Eddie was too crazy for a jury to condemn but maybe just crazy enough to be sentenced to life in prison?

Instead, the jury’s verdict of guilty, or not guilty by reason of insanity, will send the 27-year-old to prison for the rest of his life with no chance for parole, or to a state psychiatric facility from which he may never escape.

Whether Routh is a mean pot smoker and drunk or yet another casualty of a war without end is the jury’s call. From a practical standpoint, however, these seem more like distinctions without differences.

The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure states that a person found not guilty by reason of insanity can be confined in a state psychiatric facility as long as he could be held in prison. In Routh’s case, that is possibly the rest of his life.

But we live in a world as twisted as any of Routh’s delusions.

We lock violent killers up in psych wards. We house “crazy” people in jails and prisons.

And in Texas just a few years ago, officials tried to forcibly medicate a paranoid schizophrenic on death row — just to make him “competent” long enough to kill him.

In my book, that’s straight up nuts as well.





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