Man Will Appeal “American Sniper” Conviction

Attorneys for the man convicted of killing “American Sniper” Chris Kyle and his friend say they will appeal his conviction on the grounds that he could not get a fair trial in the small town of Stephenville, Texas. The man’s attorneys felt that exposure to the blockbuster film, “American Sniper,” based on Kyle’s autobiography, combined with Kyle’s hero status in his local community, had unfairly biased the local jury against their client.

The Fort Worth attorneys tried to get a change of venue before the case started, citing the movie, Kyle’s celebrity status and other issues like a bomb threat to the court building and the governor’s decision to designate the second anniversary of Kyle’s death as Chris Kyle Day in Texas. However, the judge allowed the case to go forward in Erath County, further stating that potential jurors would not be disqualified if they had seen the movie. He also permitted them to watch the Academy Awards, which featured Kyle’s widow, during the trial.

The man was ultimately convicted of capital murder in the shooting deaths of the two men, whom he shot at a gun range during an outing designed to help him deal with the effects of PTSD. After a nine-day trial, jurors rejected the man’s claim that he was insane during the time of the shooting. The district attorney supported the verdict, asserting that PTSD cannot be used as a justification for murder.

This case is a good example of why defense attorneys might seek a change of venue for their clients. Trial by a jury of one’s peers is considered a fundamental right in the United States, but it is essential for a just outcome that the jury members be impartial. Sometimes, that’s not possible in a small town where everyone knows everyone else.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “American Sniper’ Killer will Appeal”, Erik De La Garza, Feb. 27, 2015

Posted in Criminal Defense

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