“American Sniper” Verdict Shows Challenges Of Insanity Defenses


Eddie Ray Routh's psychedelic recollections of the day he killed “American Sniper” Chris Kyle and buddy Chad Littlefield, his defense argued, were the rantings of a man having a psychotic episode, so insane he couldn't tell right from wrong, which is the Texas standard for a jury finding someone not guilty by reason of insanity, says the Christian Science Monitor. The jury in Stephenville, Tx., returned a guilty-as-charged capital murder verdict against Routh. The result underscored how little patience courts and juries have with most claims of not guilty by reason of insanity. “If as a defense attorney you start off with a sympathetic victim and an unlikable defendant, you're in a hole no matter what defense you've got,” says University of Florida law Prof. Bob Dekle, a former prosecutor. “In general, insanity is a desperation defense. You haven't got anything else, so you play crazy.”

Jane Campbell Moriarty, editor of “Mental Illness in Criminal Trials,” said the justice system has long struggled to incorporate new findings in neurological science into understanding the nature of crime. In part, that explains why insanity defenses are raised in less than 1 percent of criminal trials, despite the fact that about half of all U.S. inmates suffer from some form of mental illness. “It sounds like [Routh] had a very high level of mental illness and that he was mis-perceiving reality in a very substantive way,” said Moriarty, a law professor at Duquesne University. “However, we have a long history as humans of disliking the insanity defense” because people so easily equate it with getting away with murder.

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