People turned out in droves over the holiday weekend to see "American Sniper," Clint Eastwood’s new film about decorated Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. The movie pulled in more than $105 million, breaking the record for the biggest January weekend. While that is sure to make Eastwood and distributor Warner Bros. very happy, it may be a big problem for Eddie Ray Routh, the man about to be tried for killing Kyle.
Routh, an Iraq War veteran who is set to stand trial Feb. 11, shot Kyle and Kyle's friend Chad Littlefield in February 2013 at a shooting range in Texas. Routh allegedly suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, something Routh's lawyer J. Warren St. John plans to use in his client's temporary insanity defense. However, the possibility of a fair trail may be in question.
While the film does not show Kyle’s murder, it does note in the end credits that the sniper was killed “by a veteran he was trying to help.” The movie’s heroic depiction of Kyle (Bradley Cooper has been Oscar-nominated for his performance) has resulted in a backlash from the general public against Routh. Many on Twitter have begun calling for a guilty verdict or even for Routh’s execution. In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Kyle’s widow, Taya, condemned the use of PTSD in Routh’s defense.
With the new rush of media attention – courts already gave a protective order for Routh and a gag order for those involved in the case in 2013 – St. John is not confident a fair trial is possible.
“[The film] is going to be an issue,” St. John told the Hollywood Reporter. “Can there be a fair trial?”
It's likely the movie will influence prospective jurors, especially considering its box-office success. Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University, confirms that.
“Any movie is trying to influence everyone from mid-teens to older adults and that’s your jury pool,” Denno told International Business Times
But Routh and his lawyers should not expect a postponement or change of venue.
James Cohen, an associate professor of law at Fordham, told IBTimes, “Whenever anything about a client hits the media, the lawyer always claims they can’t get a fair trial.”
However, according to Cohen, postponement and change of venue is rare and there is protocol in place to prevent a partial jury. During the jury selection process the judge will ask all potential jurors what they know about the case and, knowing what they know, can they remain fair and impartial during the trial. Only if the selection process fails to yield unbiased jurors would a delay or change of venue normally be granted.
Additionally, a change of venue is unlikely because the nationwide attention on the case renders any local bias redundant.
In all likelihood Routh's trial will proceed as planned on Feb. 11. The hype over “American Sniper” is not likely to die down until after the Feb. 22 Academy Awards, where the film is nominated for multiple awards, including Best Picture.
Do you think the trial should be delayed? Tweet your thoughts to @Ja9GarofaloTV.