Many Texans say Routh received fair trial

Courtesy of Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Courtesy of Texas Department of Criminal Justice

This story is based on reporting by Kasey Burgan, Candy Carpenter, Shelby Clayton, Thy Dang, Morgan Duncan, Sean Hargrove, Lauren Herndon, Tara Hughey, Erin Mozzillo, Lara Oler, Wendy Rape, Breanna Shorkey, Mark Smith, Alex Taylor, Renee Warner and Karly West of the Texan News Service.

Most of the people interviewed about the recent guilty verdict in the Eddie Ray Routh capital murder case said they believed the veteran received a fair trial in Erath County and that jurors made the correct decision.

Reporters for Texan News interviewed more than a dozen people from North to West Texas to gather reaction to the verdict in the high-profile trial.

“It’s beyond a reasonable doubt that he did it,” said Brock West, a Tarleton State University sophomore education major. “There was video evidence of Routh admitting to the murder.”

Shelbi Bell, 19, a Tarleton sophomore studying kinesiology and biology, said she also thought the jury delivered a just verdict.

“I think the guy was mentally disturbed, more than some people could understand, but he committed a crime,” Bell said.

On  March 2, Routh’s attorneys said they planned to file an appeal and ask for a new trial for the former Marine convicted of murdering “American Sniper” Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield at a Rough Creek Lodge shooting range on Feb. 2, 2013.

“I was expecting an appeal to be called for a case like this,” said Karen West, 48, a mother and business owner in Jacksboro. “They want to find any way to get him out of his sentence.”

Bell said she thought an appeal was “needed.”

“I think that on some level, Routh is mentally instable and needs help,” she said. “He was a Marine, too.”

But Donna Clayton, an eighth grade English teacher, said she did not expect Routh to win an appeal. Neither did Tyler Foux, a Tarleton sophomore kinesiology major.

“From what I’ve read, it’s difficult to prove insanity in a criminal case in Texas,” Clayton said.

Added Foux: “The verdict will stay the same no matter what.”

Jurors did not buy the arguments Routh’s defense attorneys made that he was legally insane at the time of the shootings. Under Texas law, the definition of legal insanity requires that a person suffering from a mental disease or defect did not understand the crime he or she committed was wrong.

“If he was insane, he wouldn’t have showed remorse, much less apologized to the families of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield,” said Luke Todd, 22, of Stephenville.

Dr. Gayle Hodges, a clinical psychologist based in Dallas, said she thought the plea of not guilty by reason of insanity was justified.

“Clearly, it is impossible to know exactly what Routh was thinking immediately after the criminal act, but the taped confession indicates that his thinking was illogical and delusional,” Hodges said. “A clinician should have examined Routh in order to further assess his thinking on that day.”

The majority of those interviewed said they believed Routh received a fair trial in Stephenville. His attorneys had tried to get the case moved out of Erath County.

“I feel like Erath County went out of its way to make sure that Routh was protected and that things were handled fairly,” said Kent Carpenter, a 55-year-old rancher in Silverton.

But Bell said the jury may be have been prejudiced by Kyle’s fame.

“At a point, I think it was not fair because Chris Kyle was an Erath County man and a recognized hero in Erath County,” Bell said. “Therefore, there may have been bias in the jury.”

Asked whether the jury should have taken more time to reach a verdict, Brock West said, “No, because they already have their mind made up so it doesn’t really matter how much time they take.”

“The jury selection process is pretty thorough,” noted Fred Smith, a Fort Worth pharmacist. “If the prosecuting and defending attorneys agreed on the jurors, then it was probably as fair a trial as he would have gotten elsewhere.”

Darren Rape, 43, a physician’s assistant in Granbury and a Tarleton alumnus, said the relatively quick verdict showed that the “prosecution did a good job at presenting the case in an overwhelming fashion.”

“The short length of time probably means it was easy for them to come to the right decision because the prosecution was so convincing with the evidence,” he said.

Brandi Burgan Harris, 30, a dentist, was a potential juror in the case but was released during the first round of jury selection. She also felt the jury spent enough time weighing the evidence.

“I have served on a jury before and I honestly do think they took enough time,” Harris said. “If everyone agrees, there is not much to talk about. From what I have heard, they all agreed from the start and still took time to review the facts. Sounds like a fair way to go about it.”

However, Hodges, the clinical psychologist, said she thought the jury should have deliberated longer.

“Given that the jury was only in deliberations for about two hours, I did not think they had enough time to even consider the complexities of an NGRI (not guilty by reason of insanity) defense,” she said.

Todd agreed, saying, “deciding someone’s fate shouldn’t be decided over the time it takes to watch a movie.”

Those responding were split on whether the prosecutor should have removed the death penalty from punishment, meaning the jury could find him not guilty by reason of insanity or guilty.

“I think if you murder someone else, that should be a justified penalty for punishment,” Rape said.

But Jessica Medina, a sophomore education major at Tarleton, said she didn’t believe Routh should have been sentenced to death “because since they found out the truth, he now has to live with himself in a jail cell knowing that he committed murder.”

Harris said she was glad the death penalty was taken off the table.

“ I do think there is a time for the death penalty but I don’t think this was the time for it,” she said. “For me to give someone the death penalty, I would have to see more than just a troubled person like I saw in Routh, I would have to see a true evilness in them, which I did not see in Routh.”

Hodges said she thought that given Routh’s mental illness, it was “appropriate” for the prosecution not to seek the death penalty.

“The death penalty calls for an automatic appeal and there is considerable controversy surrounding the execution of mentally ill individuals,” Hodges said. “It would probably be denied and it would be costly and time-consuming.”

Many of those interviewed did not accept Routh’s claims that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I think it was a lie,” Brock West said.

Medina agreed. “It’s unreliable and seems fake. He’s a fraud in my eyes,” she said.

Carpenter said Routh was using the claim of PTSD “as an excuse to be inhumane.”

“How in the world can he claim PTSD and kill someone like Kyle, who has every right to suffer from true PTSD?” Carpenter asked. “He (Routh) is just a nut!”

Others said that they believed Routh did have some symptoms of PTSD.

“I had friends who have been on tours overseas but never see combat,” Bell said. “The fear of the unexpected or even hearing battle in the horizon is scary enough. I have heard war stories from Marines who never battled but were scared out of their minds. So I believe he had PTSD.”

Many of those interviewed expressed sympathy for the Routh family, although a few said they believed his parents and uncle contributed to his problems by smoking marijuana and drinking with him.

“I believe they should keep themselves and their family accountable for their actions and they don’t need to be using drugs together or doing things that could lead them into trouble,” Karen West said.

Bell said the Routh family needs prayers.

“I pray that they find peace and can heal from this disruption in their life. But they should all be treated as human, even Eddie,” she said.

Smith said he also feels for the Rouths because “they’ll be infamous forever because of this tragic event.”

“Three men’s lives were ruined and their families’ have been changed in many terrible ways,” he said.

The Texan News Service is a product of the Department of Communication Studies at Tarleton State University. Read more news at www.texannews.net.

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