'American Sniper' Trial: Why Jurors Who Saw the Movie Were Still Picked

At least two of the 12 jurors saw the hit film before the trial.

ByABC News
February 25, 2015, 2:07 PM

— -- The prospect of jurors being biased in the "American Sniper" trial was a concern from the very beginning of the case because of the popularity of victim Chris Kyle's memoir and ensuing blockbuster film about the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history.

Now, it has been revealed that several members of the jury saw the movie before being selected to serve on the trial, but they maintain that it did not interfere with their ability to fairly judge accused killer Eddie Ray Routh.

Routh was found guilty on Tuesday night of the capital murders of Chris Kyle and Kyle's friend Chad Littlefield and now faces life in prison.

At least two of the jurors told ABC News after Tuesday's verdict that they had seen the Academy Award-nominated film and informed the prosecution and defense of that prior to being picked.

About 800 people were summoned for jury selection with the expectation that only 400 to 500 would appear, officials said before the trial began. From there, they were interviewed by lawyers on both sides and had to fill out a questionnaire with 22 questions addressing their familiarity with Kyle's story as well as other issues that would come up in the trial, like the military and mental illness.

Juror Barrett Hutchinson told ABC News today the questionnaire "specifically asked ... could you put [your views on the film] to the wayside and make a fair and impartial judgment based on only the facts presented? And me personally, that's one of the things I processed and told myself I could do."

"I laid it out on the questionnaire, told them my thoughts on it and in the end, they picked me for a juror," he said.

Fellow juror Stephanie Templeton said that the movie was "awesome" but didn't have any direct connection to the case.

"It was basically a movie through the eyes of the sniper and his family, and it really didn't have anything to do with Mr. Routh or the killings," Templeton told ABC News. "I mean the screen went black and you saw the procession. It didn't have any information about the capital murder case that we served on."

Kyle was known for having the most confirmed kills in American military history during his four tours of duty in Iraq and that made him a public figure. But the fact that a jury was being asked to decide the fate of his killer just days after a Clint Eastwood-directed film about Kyle was up for Best Picture at the Academy Awards was "truly unprecedented," according to jury consultant Jo-Ellan Dimitrius.

Dimitrius did not work on this case but has been involved with other high-profile cases, including that of O.J. Simpson. She said that in order for a defense team to select a juror who has prior knowledge about the individuals involved in a case, they must be comfortable that the jurors will be impartial.

"Whatever [the jurors] said during the voir dire did not rise to a level of concern based on what the defense attorneys were looking for," she told ABC News.

The film itself makes a difference too, Dimitrius said, and since an actor portraying Routh is only shown briefly at the end of the film, with no further depiction of the murder or their interaction, that likely lessened the attorneys' concern.

"Even though you have Hollywood portrayal in a movie, what happens in a court room is the jury's reality," she said.