Possibility of fair trial questioned following 'American Sniper' success

"American Sniper," based on the life of late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, is currently the hottest movie in America. But with so much national publicity and Oscar buzz, some wonder if the former Marine accused of murdering Kyle and his friend can get a fair trial anywhere. 

"Certainly, it's a headache," said retired Dallas Judge Mike Snipes. "Certainly it's something that has to be addressed during jury selection."  

Kyle, along with his friend Chad Littlefield, were shot to death in 2013 while trying to help Marine veteran Eddie Ray Routh, who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Routh is charged with capital murder in their deaths. He's accused of killing the men at a shooting range outside of Stephenville, which is southwest of Fort Worth.

The state is not seeking the death penalty against Routh.

Snipes, now in private practice, knows all about high profile capital murder cases. He presided over the highly-publicized capital murder trial of Eric Williams, who was sentenced to death for the murders of Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland, McLelland's wife and Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse. 

In that case, a change of venue was granted, but in Routh's case, the defense has asked for and been denied a change of venue.

"No matter if you move this case to Buffalo, New York or Sacramento or Boise, Idaho, everyone in the country has either seen the movie or at least heard about it," said Snipes.

Still, Snipes says it's possible for Routh to get a fair trial, even in Erath County.

"The ultimate test is, can they put anything they've heard about the movie, any publicity about the case, out of their minds, and listen to the evidence and render a fair and impartial verdict?" said Snipes.

Jury consultant Mary Griffitts has broken down the demographics of the 39,000 registered voters in Erath County.

She says they're predominately white, middle-aged and above -- some with college and most with at least a high school education. 

"There's a little more than 2,000 veterans that live in this area," said Griffitts.

Two weeks ago, county court officials say 800 jurors were summoned.

Griffitts says the prosecution would want veterans, but that could be a double-edged sword for the defense. 

"Somebody who's had experience with the post-traumatic disorder, they have some sort of knowledge about it, they themselves may have had it or had someone in their family," she said.  

Court officials hope to have the jury seated in time for the trial to begin Feb. 11.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott proclaimed Feb. 2 as Chris Kyle Day in Texas, which is the date that the he was slain two years ago.


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