Inside the Tortured Mind of Eddie Ray Routh, the Man Who Killed American Sniper Chris Kyle

Routh
Chris Kyle, fourth from top left, was the most celebrated sniper in American military history. His killer, Eddie Ray Routh, may have been suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia. Photo illustration: Joel Arbaje. Featured photos courtesy of Jodi Routh and AP.

This article first appeared on The Trace, an independent, nonprofit media organization dedicated to expanding coverage of guns in the United States.

For months, Jodi Routh would come home from work afraid she’d stumble upon the dead body of her son. A 25-year-old former Marine, Eddie Routh had moved back to her home in Lancaster, Texas, a small, middle-class suburb just south of Dallas. It was early 2013, and he’d recently taken a job at a local cabinet shop but was struggling with what doctors said was post-traumatic stress disorder. His anxiety was so severe he couldn’t drive on his own, and he believed his colleagues were cannibals who planned to eat him.

Jodi would drop off her son in the morning on her way to work, and the shop’s owner would bring him home. Because Jodi worked later, Routh was alone for a few hours each afternoon. “When I’d start back to the house,” Jodi recalls, “I’d be like, Please don’t let me find him dead. I was so afraid he was going to kill himself. Because that’s what he wanted.” Late at night, he would often climb into bed with her. “This was a 6-foot-2 Marine,” she says. “A tough man calling for his mama."

Routh had become concerned about the state of his soul, and when he and his mother arrived at the cabinet shop on the morning of February 1, 2013, he asked if they could pray together. In the parking lot, Jodi held her son’s hand. Wiry since boyhood, he had a narrow face and a beak nose, with nervous eyes and an unkempt beard. Before he left the car, he asked the Lord to watch over his mom and dad.

Jodi was headed out of town that afternoon to spend the weekend with her husband, Raymond. She took comfort in knowing that Routh’s girlfriend would be staying at the house and that his uncle would check on him.

But Routh had plans for an excursion his mother didn’t know about. The following day, on February 2, Chris Kyle, the most prolific sniper in American military history, arrived with a friend, Chad Littlefield, to take Routh to a shooting range. Jodi’s concerns, it turned out, had been misplaced. Her son did not commit suicide. He did something much worse: He killed the two men.

'You Killed a Texas Hero'

Kyle Chris Kyle's grave at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin on February 10. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz

Kyle’s death generated an outpouring of grief in Texas, where thousands piled into Texas Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys, for his memorial service. It also resonated with gun enthusiasts across the country, who had embraced Kyle as a modern Wyatt Earp. His legacy was enhanced by his books, especially American Sniper , which chronicled his exploits as a Navy Seal in Iraq, where he logged 160 kills, a U.S. military record.

The film adaptation of his story, starring Bradley Cooper, was already in theaters in Stephenville when Routh’s murder trial began there on February 11, 2014. Outside the courthouse, local vendors sold Chris Kyle baseball caps. A week earlier, Governor Greg Abbott declared February 2, the anniversary of the murders, Chris Kyle Day.

Routh pleaded innocent by reason of insanity, though the medical expert hired by the defense, a forensic psychiatrist, disagreed with the PTSD diagnosis the Marine had received at the Dallas Veterans Affairs hospital. The expert believed Routh was schizophrenic and suggested he suffered from paranoid delusions. In a videotaped confession to a Texas Ranger after the killings, Routh said, in reference to Kyle, “I knew if I did not take his soul, he was going to take mine.”

The prosecution, however, said Routh was a psychopath who had calculated his odd statements to keep himself out of jail. After deliberating for less than two hours, the jury agreed, and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Related: 'American Sniper' and the Soul of War

Many applauded the verdict. Marcus Luttrell, the former Navy SEAL whose autobiography was the basis for the film Lone Survivor, tweeted, “Justice served for Chris and the Littlefield family.” To Routh, he continued: Just wait until the correctional officers “find out you killed a Texas hero.”

But the truth about Routh is far more complicated. Recently, Jodi and Raymond shared hundreds of pages of confidential medical records with me. The documents, which went largely unused during the trial, show that in the two years leading up to Kyle’s murder, Routh suffered a series of psychotic breaks and may have been misdiagnosed. “The VA should have been more careful,” says Dr. Amam Saleh, a forensic psychiatrist who reviewed Routh’s medical records at my request. “Something was missed.”

The Land of Corpses