It’s not often that something as frivolous as an Oscar campaign has an impact on something as significant as a murder trial, but that’s what the courts in Texas face as they prepare for the trial of Eddie Ray Routh, the veteran accused of killing Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.
Kyle’s story currently is powering Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, a box-office juggernaut that has collected $326 million worldwide, in addition to its six Oscar nominations. The movie is up for Best Picture. Kyle is being portrayed by the ridiculously famous Bradley Cooper, who also received an Oscar nomination. And the film’s popularity is threatening to affect jury selection, according to reports in the L.A. Times.
Fort Worth-based attorney J. Warren St. John, who is representing Eddie Ray Routh, doubts that his client can get a fair trial in Texas due to the overwhelming popularity of American Sniper. The attorney has filed for a change of venue, though the judge in the case has rejected the request so far. Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University, has told the L.A. Times that court cases involving celebrity is "always an issue," but that "you can multiply that by a thousand with Chris Kyle" because of the current white-hot spotlight shining on the case thanks to American Sniper. Denno made a comparison to a Michael Jackson trial, stating:
There was not an Oscar-nominated movie about [Jackson] involving one of the most covered stars in Hollywood, Bradley Cooper, and all these spinoffs. It has inspired almost an industry around this talent, snipers.
Jury selection has begun, and legal experts have said that American Sniper -- both the movie and the book on which it is based – will be a focal point when questioning potential candidates to sit in the box and listen to the case. In a separate story, The L.A. Times reports that the judge told potential jurors who had been summoned to court this week that knowledge of the book, or a viewing of the movie, will not disqualify them from sitting in the jury on this particular case.
The timing of the case is complicated. Warner Bros. pushed Clint Eastwood’s biopic into December so that it would qualify for an Oscar run. The movie paid off. But that means that while the movie is grabbing headlines – as it has for weeks due to its various successes – it’s also pulling focus both toward and away from the actual man and his tragic murder. We’ll continue to track the progress of both American Sniper, and the Texas murder case tied to Chris Kyle’s death.