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Alleged Killer of 'American Sniper' on Trial: 5 Things You Should Know

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on February 04, 2015 3:17 PM

The Bradley Cooper vehicle "American Sniper" was a huge hit at the box office, and has engendered many think-pieces about the film's treatment of the Iraq War -- as well as the veracity of many of the claims made by its main character, the late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle.

One fact that's definitely real is that Kyle was shot and killed at a shooting range in 2013, allegedly by Eddie Ray Routh, a fellow Iraq War veteran with post-traumatic stress. Routh was arrested and charged with the murder of Kyle and Chad Littlefield, another veteran.

Here are five things to know about Routh's trial, which is set to begin February 11:

1. Routh Is on Trial for 2 Counts of Murder.

Though initially charged with two counts of murder and one count of capital murder, prosecutors have said they're not going to seek the death penalty. First degree murder in Texas is a first degree felony, which carries a possible penalty of life in prison. A jury could also find him guilty of second degree murder, which is a second degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

2. Routh Is Pleading Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.

After allegedly shooting Kyle and Littlefield, Routh admitted to police that he killed them at the shooting range. Nevertheless, he's pursuing an insanity defense. This would require the defense to prove, by a preponderance (i.e., "more likely than not") that Routh, "as a result of severe mental disease or defect, did not know that his conduct was wrong." (This is one of several formulations of the insanity defense called the M'Naghten Rule.)

3. Routh's Motion for a Change of Venue Was Denied.

As with Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Routh's lawyer argued for a change of venue on the ground that the "American Sniper" film has placed a great deal of attention on Chris Kyle, and as a result, Routh couldn't get a fair trial. That motion was denied.

4. Acquittal by Insanity Doesn't Mean It's All Over.

Even if Routh were acquitted by reason of insanity, he wouldn't be released onto the streets like nothing happened. A defendant who raises insanity as a defense can be ordered to receive mental health services if the court, after conducting a separate civil hearing, believes the defendant's alleged act involved serious bodily injury and finds that he or she has a mental illness.

5. Jury Selection and Timeline.

The trial has already been significantly delayed. Back in March, the trial was scheduled to start in May. Now, though, it's going to start next week, nine months late. The first stage of the trial is jury selection, and ABC News reports that 800 jurors have been summoned just so the court can winnow them down to 12 jurors and two alternates.

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