The man who killed Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle is likely to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Based on what we know about former Marine Eddie Ray Routh, it is not hard to figure out how that might go.
In the two years since Routh has been jailed awaiting trial, he has attacked his guards and been placed on suicide watch. While in solitary confinement, he was reportedly strapped to a chair. In another episode, Routh ripped a television from the wall and tried to flood his cell with water from the shower.
Tumultuous would be an understatement.
During his trial, a defense expert concluded that Routh suffered from paranoid schizophrenia — and medicine for the disorder (along with recreational drugs) was found by police in Routh’s home. But that diagnosis was questioned and undercut by the prosecutor’s expert witness, who argued instead that Routh knew that killing “American Sniper” author Kyle and a friend, Chad Littlefield, was wrong.
But testimony also revealed that in the minds of his family – which endured a constant struggle with Routh’s apparently deteriorating mental state – and even according to Kyle, who called Routh “nuts” on the day of the fatal shooting — there is no question that Eddie Ray Routh is a troubled man.
Soon, he will be one of thousands of U.S. prisoners institutionalized with serious mental health problems.
A recent report from the Vera Institute of Justice made the case that incarceration has become society’s solution for dealing with the mentally disturbed. Rates of mental illness in jails are four to six times higher than in the general population, the report said. Some 14 percent of men and 31 percent of women in America’s jails have serious mental problems that include “bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depression,” according to one study highlighted in the report.
Jails, the report says, have become the new asylums.
“Jails have been described as the ‘treatment of last resort’ for those who are mentally ill and as ‘de facto mental hospitals,’” the report said, “because they fill the vacuum created by the shuttering of state psychiatric hospitals and other efforts to deinstitutionalize people with serious mental illness during the 1970’s, which occurred without creating adequate resources to care for those displaced in the community.”
With the jury swiftly handing down a guilty verdict in Routh’s capital murder trial on Tuesday, the debate about the veracity of his family’s claims that his mental state was compromised at the time of the murder is essentially over.
There will be no such debate for the people guarding Routh, wherever he is ultimately incarcerated. And based on Routh’s past actions in jail, they will be dealing with someone who has acted in unpredictable and potentially dangerous ways.
Yet in prison, he will be one of many others just like him — men (and women) convicted of serious, often violent crimes and imprisoned with serious, often untreated mental illness. As they have in the past, authorities may resort to containment strategies — including solitary confinement — that advocacy organizations have linked to mental distress.
Those who knew and loved Chris Kyle believe that the ravages of prison are the price Routh must pay for his heinous act of murder. They have from the very beginning discounted any claims that Routh had post-traumatic stress disorder. And even if he did, they rejected the idea that Routh’s mental illness should change the way the justice system deals with his acts of murder.
On Facebook after the verdict was announced, Marcus Luttrell, a Navy SEAL veteran and friend of Kyle’s, issued an ominous warning — making it clear that he believes prison is where Routh’s mental state will be tested even further.
“To Eddie Ray Routh, you thought you had PTSD before .?? Wait till the boys in TDC Find out you killed a TX hero,” he wrote.