STEPHENVILLE -- Eddie Lee Routh, the man accused of killing former Navy SEAL sniper and author Chris Kyle along with his friend Chad Littlefield, pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning.
Routh, 25, appeared briefly in an Erath County court for his arraignment. He was indicted by an Erath grand jury on one count of capital murder in July, more than five months after the alleged murders. Two killings made it a capital case, which makes him eligible for the death penalty.
Routh, who was moved under heavy security from the Erath County Jail answered, "Yessir," when asked if he understood the charges against him. Chains made his ankles rattle as he ambled into the courtroom just after 8 a.m.
It was Routh's first appearance in court. He is accused of shooting and killing Kyle and Littlefield on Feb. 2 at the gun range at Rough Creek Lodge. Routh's mother, Jodi Routh, has said she asked Kyle to help her son with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder related to his military service.
Several deputies stood guard in the empty courtroom. No spectators attended. It's such a notorious case that Erath County authorities wanted to arraign him by video from jail.
They transferred him to court only when that could not be worked out. Routh's attorney, Warren St. John, entered a plea of not guilty on his client's behalf. There was no discussion of evidence or of Routh's mental health.
According to the arrest affidavit, Routh left the scene of the shooting in the truck of one of his alleged victims and confessed about the crime to his sister and her husband later that night. Routh told them he "traded his soul for a new truck," according to the document.
The trial is set to begin Oct. 21.
Kyle was the best-selling author of "American Sniper," published in 2012, which recounts his experience killing insurgents from 1999 to 2009 as a Navy SEAL sniper.
Kyle's widow, Taya Kyle, called Littlefield the "effortless, no expectations" friend her husband needed during a memorial service at Cowboys Stadium.
Taya Kyle has expressed doubt about Routh suffering from PTSD.
"I do think about him when we talk about PTSD, because I do not believe this is a case of PTSD, she told News 8 earlier this year. I've not heard it confirmed he had PTSD. And I resent people blaming murder on anything but your ability to commit evil."
A defense attorney said Routh's competency is still an issue.
Routh's family released a statement on Feb. 26 expressing their "deepest condolences to the Kyle and Littlefield families" and said they wished they could thank Kyle "for his genuine interest in helping our son overcome his battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."
Although this was Routh's first court appearance, things could move quickly now: A judge set pretrial hearings for Sept. 16 and the trial for Oct. 21.Attorneys on both sides have been ordered not to speak to the media about the case.