A federal jury on Tuesday found in favor of former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura in the defamation case he brought against “deadliest sniper in US history.” The panel came to a decision after six days of deliberations.
Ventura sued the estate of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle for disparaging him in Kyle’s book 'American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.' Ventura says a passage of the book regarding a supposed fight between him and Kyle in 2006 has irreparably damaged his reputation.
"We the jury have not reached a decision," the 10-member jury told Senior US District Judge Richard Kyle on Monday, according to Reuters. Judge Kyle asked the jury to continue its deliberations, though he informed attorneys that a "mistrial is a possibility."
The jury reconvened on Tuesday, and both sides agreed to split the verdict 8 to 2, the New York Times reported. The panel then awarded the former professional wrestler and governor $500,000 for defamation and $1.3 million for what they termed the author’s unjust enrichment.
The jurors were tasked with definitively determining whether Ventura was defamed, whether the statements made in the book are true, and whether Kyle made the statements with actual malice. Because Ventura is a public figure, his legal team had to prove a higher standard of defamation than ordinary citizens.
In ‘American Sniper,’ former SEAL Kyle wrote that he knocked a man identified as "Scruff Face" - later identified as Ventura - down to the ground with a punch to the face during a 2006 incident at a California bar after the individual said during a barroom conversation that the SEALs “deserve to lose a few,” and that the American military was "killing innocent men, women and children."
Ventura insists the altercation never occurred, however, nor did he speak disparaging remarks about then-President George W. Bush and the Navy SEALS, as attributed to him by Kyle, that sparked the alleged altercation.
“Being level-headed and calm can last only so long,” Kyle wrote in his book. “I laid him out. Tables flew. Stuff happened. Scruff Face ended up on the floor.”
During media appearances related to the book’s release, Kyle claimed that “Scruff Face” was a pseudonym he used for Ventura, who was a member of the Underwater Demolition Teams, a predecessor of the SEALs.
Attorneys for Ventura responded to the release of Kyle’s book with a defamation suit. The former pro-wrestler says his reputation was tarnished with the release of Kyle’s book and the subsequent statements that linked him to the “Scruff Face” character.
As RT reported previously, the celebrated sniper died early last year after being gunned down at a Texas shooting range. Eddie Ray Routh, a former Marine and Iraq War vet who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, was charged with killing Kyle and one other in the incident.
During closing arguments last week, Ventura attorney David Bradley Olson said he believes Kyle’s estate has earned more than $6 million from the book, and suggested that $5 million to $15 million would be reasonable compensation for what he said was irreparable harm to Ventura’s reputation.
“The verdict will tell the world Chris Kyle’s story was a lie,” Olson said, according to the Associated Press.
But defense attorney John Borger told jurors in his own closing argument that Ventura failed to prove his claim that Kyle made up the story, and didn’t prove he suffered financially because of the book.
“Jesse Ventura is either deluding himself or intentionally telling you things that just aren’t true,” Borger said.