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Mental illness looms at ‘American sniper’ trial

Eddie Ray Routh, 27, is accused of shooting dead famed US sniper Chris Kyle and another man, Chad Littlefield

Published: Updated:

The man on trial for killing the US Navy Seal whose story inspired Oscar-nominated blockbuster “American Sniper” was so mentally ill he did not know what he was doing, a Texas court heard Wednesday.

Eddie Ray Routh, 27, is accused of shooting dead famed US sniper Chris Kyle and another man, Chad Littlefield, at a Texas shooting range in February 2013.

Kyle, officially credited with killing 160 people during four military tours in Iraq, has been lionized in Clint Eastwood’s controversial movie starring Bradley Cooper as the soldier.

Defense lawyer Tim Moore told the opening of the trial in the town of Stephenville that his client, Routh, was “in the grips of a psychosis so severe he did not what he was doing was wrong.”

The 38-year-old Kyle had been helping Routh with post-traumatic stress disorder when the shooting took place.

“Routh thought Kyle and Littlefield wanted to take his life,” Moore told the court in the small rural town, around 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Dallas.

After the shootings on February 2, 2013, Routh took Kyle’s truck and was later arrested at his sister home.

He allegedly confessed to the killings after complaining that “people were sucking his soul and that he could smell the pigs.”

Prosecutor Alan Nash told the court Wednesday that mental illness “doesn’t take away the ability to know what’s right and wrong.”

Prosecutors have said they will not seek the death penalty during what is expected to be a two-week trial.

Lawyers had questioned whether Routh could receive a fair trial in the small town, given the success of “American Sniper” and the widely held view of Kyle as a hero.

But the judge dismissed an application by Routh’s lawyers to delay the trial.

Eastwood’s film, based on Kyle’s book “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in US Military History”, has smashed a series of box office records on the way to winning six Oscar nominations.

However, the film, which has so far earned more than $280 million to become the highest grossing war film in history, has attracted controversy for its depiction of Kyle and its view of the Iraq War.

Critics claim it presents a simplistic, black and white view of the Iraq conflict, and glosses over Kyle’s references to Iraqis in his memoir as “savages.”