Closing Arguments Expected Tuesday in Jesse Ventura Defamation Lawsuit

Updated: 07/20/2014 2:53 PM KSTP.com By: Megan Matthews


Photo: Photo: AP/Jim Mone

Attorneys on both sides in the Jesse Ventura vs. Chris Kyle defamation trial rested their cases on Friday.  Judge Richard Kyle will hold a hearing with the attorneys on Monday to discuss the jury instructions he'll give on Tuesday after closing arguments.

The former Minnesota governor is suing late military sniper Chris Kyle's estate for defamation. He says Kyle fabricated a story in the best-seller "American Sniper" that damaged Ventura's reputation and career.

In the book, Kyle identifies a "celebrity" former Navy SEAL he says he punched in a San Diego bar after the man said SEALs "deserve to lose a few" in Iraq. Kyle later said in interviews the man, identified as "Scruff Face" in the book, is actually Ventura.

Ventura, who was Minnesota's governor from 1999-2003, denies the incident ever happened. He pursued his lawsuit even after Kyle was killed in February 2013, saying it was important to clear his name.

Jury selection and opening statements for the case began in St. Paul on Tuesday, July 8. On Friday, the judge announced the trial will take a 2-day break. When it resumes next Tuesday, attorneys are expected to begin closing arguments.

No more witnesses will be called to testify.

The late SEAL's widow, Taya Kyle, was the first witness. She acknowledged she'd heard some concerns as he was writing the book that naming Ventura would risk a libel lawsuit but didn't recall who raised them.

Ventura said during testimony last week that he doesn't know if Kyle was even in the California bar the night of the alleged fight in 2006. Ventura says he remembers several people asking him to sign autographs and pose for pictures. He says he wasn't drinking that night and hasn't for years.

Ventura testified that he blames the book for a 90 percent drop in his earnings since it came out in January 2012. He said job offers have dried up as a result of the harm to his reputation.

Besides the financial hit, Ventura said Kyle’s story hurt his reputation within the tight-knit Navy SEAL community, an "especially bitter blow." He said he no longer feels welcome at SEAL reunions and doesn’t plan to attend them anymore, though he acknowledged under questioning that no former SEALs have criticized him to his face.

Jeremiah Dinnell, who served in the SEALs for a decade before leaving last year, said he saw Kyle strike Ventura with his right hand that night at the bar. Dinnell said he watched Ventura fall and get up again.

Laura deShazo of Salt Lake City testified Monday she saw Ventura get into a scuffle with other people at the bar and saw a man punch Ventura. She said she doesn't know who threw the punch, but she gave a description that was consistent with Kyle.

"The people who have to sort out what's true or what's not true is the jury," explains Hamline University Law Professor Joe Daly.  "That's their role. The judge sorts out the law and tells the jury what the law is, but the jury is the determiner, and the sole determiner, of the facts. So they're going to decided who's telling the truth here."

Legal experts have said Ventura has to prove that Kyle made up the story, or at least acted with reckless disregard for the truth. The judge in the case ruled earlier that any profits from an upcoming movie based on Kyle's book could be subject to damages.