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American Sniper Trial Opens Amid Questions About Publicity and PTSD

Written By: A. Wilt

February 2015

The trial for the murder of American Sniper,Chris Kyle, began in the early part of February 2015 garnering a great deal of interest and speculation. Kyle, and his friend, Chad Littlefield, were killed by Iraq war veteran, Eddie Routh, in February of 2013. The trial has received a lot of attention, due in part to the popularity of the recent movie, "American Sniper," starring Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle and based on Kyle’s 2012 autobiography.

The Defense cited the movie in its unsuccessful attempt to have the trial delayed or moved, asserting that it would be difficult for Routh to receive a fair trial in Texas. Kyle was considered a hero in his hometown in Texas, even before the release of the movie. The defense also argued its concerns that Routh would not likely receive a fair trial while the movie was still being shown in theaters. The judge in the case did not grant these requests.

 Back in the USA News Story: American Sniper Trial Opens Amid Questions About Publicity and PTSD.

Eddie Routh

That decision has left many experts also questioning whether Routh can receive a fair trial. Fordham law professor, Deborah Denno, told the Los Angeles Times that proceeding without changing the venue is “problematic” given the current success of the movie. Denno also stated that in other high profile trials,

“...there was not an Oscar-nominated movie about him involving one of the most covered stars in Hollywood, Bradley Cooper, and all these spinoffs. It has inspired almost an industry around this talent, snipers.”

PTSD and the Legal Strategy

Along with the extra attention the trial is receiving due to the movie, others are watching closely because of the Defense strategy. Routh has already admitted to shooting and killing Kyle and Littlefield, but his attorneys argue that he was emotional crippled by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to his prior military service.

Texas law does not provide for jurors to find him guilty but insane, so what is at issue is whether he can be held guilty for capital murder or whether he is not guilty by reason of insanity. Typically, the burden of proof rests with the Prosecutor. In this case, under Article 46C.153 of the Texas Criminal Code, the burden of proving insanity rests with the Defense. This defense has been used before with success, but not in a case that received as much attention as this one.

Regardless of whether he is found guilty, or not guilty by reason of insanity, Routh will mostly likely be remanded to the custody of the State, though for how long is up for debate. Texas Code Article 46 also provides:

...for a person who is acquitted by reason of insanity to be institutionalized for a period of time until he is considered not to have mental illness or until he is not a danger to himself of others, with that timeframe not to exceed what the prison time would have been had he been found guilty.

Beyond the Courtroom: The Stigma Associated with PTSD

Beyond the courtroom, and beyond the future for Routh himself, the attention cast on the trial is proving worrisome for some veterans who are concerned that the focus on PTSD in this trial will reinforce the stigma attached to the disorder. They worry that the public's misconceptions about the disorder will become more entrenched. If that proves to be the case, it could make a transition back to civilian life, including things like finding a job, even more difficult for soldiers returning from combat. And that may lead to those who need mental health treatment refusing to seek medical help.

 Back in the USA News Story: American Sniper Trial Opens Amid Questions About Publicity and PTSD.

The VA itself acknowledges that getting those who are affected with PTSD to seek help is a challenge because of the stigma associated with the disorder:

"When you are the military, there are other things that may get in the way of seeking help. Military members may worry that talking about PTSD with doctors, other soldiers, or commanding officers will hurt their career. You may think if people in your unit learn you have PTSD they will see you as weak, or not trust you to be able to protect them."

The outcome of this trial, which is expected to last about two weeks, will say a lot about whether our legal system is willing to accept PTSD as a legal defense in cases of capital murder. On a broader scale, it will affect future conversations about PTSD and may help determine whether we are able to be effective at recognizing and treating the disorder.


Other Articles of Interest:

Behind Closed Doors: PTSD and Fireworks

Kevlar Helmets Saving Lives

Proposed Increase in Pay for VA Physicians and Dentists

Reality Check: Kids Get a Life Lesson about Video War Games

Medical Technology That Will Save Lives in Combat


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