Jury awards Jesse Ventura $1.8M in defamation case

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Jury awards Jesse Ventura $1.8M in defamation case
Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura returns from lunch to the federal courthouse in St. Paul, Minn., Tuesday, July 8, 2014, the first day of a trial in a lawsuit Ventura filed against the estate of the late former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Ventura filed the defamation lawsuit claiming that Kyle's account of a bar fight in a book he wrote was false. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Taya Kyle, the widow of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, arrives with her attorneys at the federal courthouse Tuesday, July 8, 2014 in St. Paul, Minn., for the start of a trial in a lawsuit filed by former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura against the Kyle estate. Ventura filed the defamation lawsuit claiming that Chris Kyle's account of a bar fight in a book he wrote was false. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura makes his way back into Warren E. Burger Federal Building during the first day of jury selection in a defamation lawsuit, Tuesday, July 8, 2014 in St. Paul, Minn. Ventura filed the defamation lawsuit against the late Navy Seal Chris Kyle's estate, claiming that Kyle's account of a bar fight in a book he wrote was false. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Taya Kyle, the widow of former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, arrives at the federal courthouse Tuesday, July 8, 2014 in St. Paul, Minn., for the start of a trial in a lawsuit filed by former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura against the Kyle estate. Ventura filed the defamation lawsuit claiming that Chris Kyle's account of a bar fight in a book he wrote was false. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2013 file photo Christopher Kyle's wife, Taya, is escorted to her seat after memorializing her husband in Arlington, Texas. Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura sued Chris Kyle, the author of the best-selling book “American Sniper,” for defamation in 2012 after Kyle claimed in his book that he punched Ventura at a California bar. Ventura says the incident never happened, and he’s suing for damages. Kyle, of Texas, was killed last year on a gun range while the lawsuit was pending. His widow, Taya Kyle, is now the central defendant in the case, which goes to trial on Tuesday, July 8, in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2011 file photo, former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, left, talks to the media in Minneapolis. Ventura sued Chris Kyle, the author of the best-selling book “American Sniper,” for defamation in 2012 after Kyle claimed in his book that he punched Ventura at a California bar. Ventura says the incident never happened, and he’s suing for damages. Kyle, of Texas, was killed last year on a gun range while the lawsuit was pending. His widow, Taya Kyle, is now the central defendant in the case, which goes to trial on Tuesday, July 8, in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2012 file photo, former Minnesota Gov. Jessie Ventura speaks at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., in support of Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson prior to an address by Johnson. A judge on Wednesday, March 19, 2014, allowed Ventura's defamation lawsuit against the widow of slain "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle to go to trial. Ventura alleges Kyle, considered to be the deadliest sniper in American history, defamed him in his best-selling book. In it, Kyle claimed he punched someone named "Scruff Face," whom he later identified as Ventura, in a 2006 bar fight. Ventura says the fight never happened. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)
FILE - In this May 15, 2008 file photo, former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura signs his new book, "Don't Start the Revolution Without Me," during an appearance at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. Ventura contends he isn't going after the widow of slain "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle by continuing his defamation lawsuit. Ventura told The Associated Press late Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, his fight is with the publisher's insurance company. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2002 file photo, then Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura speaks during a news conference in St. Paul, Minn. Ventura contends he isn't going after the widow of slain "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle by continuing his defamation lawsuit. Ventura told The Associated Press late Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, his fight is with the publisher's insurance company. (AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid,File)
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By STEVE KARNOWSKI

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- A jury awarded former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura $1.8 million on Tuesday in his lawsuit against the estate of "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle.

On the sixth day of deliberations, the federal jury decided that the 2012 best-selling book defamed Ventura in its description of a bar fight in California in 2006. Kyle wrote that he decked a man whom he later identified as Ventura after the man allegedly said the Navy SEALs "deserve to lose a few."

Ventura testified that Kyle fabricated the passage about punching him. Kyle said in testimony videotaped before his death last year that his story was accurate.

Legal experts had said Ventura had to clear a high legal bar to win, since as a public figure he had to prove "actual malice." According to the jury instructions, Ventura had to prove with "clear and convincing evidence" that Kyle either knew or believed what he wrote was untrue, or that he harbored serious doubts about its truth.

The jury told the judge Monday that it didn't believe it could reach a unanimous verdict, but the judge instructed them to continue. On Tuesday, attorneys for both sides agreed that the verdict did not need to be unanimous and would allow a verdict if only eight of 10 jurors agreed.

After finding in favor of Ventura, the jury was also tasked with awarding damages for any harm to his reputation, humiliation and embarrassment. Jurors had to find that Ventura suffered an economic loss as a direct result of Kyle's statements, or that Kyle used Ventura to profit unjustly.

Neither Ventura nor Chris Kyle's widow, Taya Kyle, were in the courtroom for the verdict. Chris Kyle was slain at a Texas gun range last year, so his widow is executor of his estate with control over proceeds from book royalties and movie rights.

In his closing argument, Ventura attorney David Bradley Olsen 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," Olsen said.

Olsen said Kyle's claims that Ventura said he hated America, thought the U.S. military was killing innocent civilians in Iraq and that the SEALs "deserve to lose a few" had made him a pariah in the community that mattered most to him - the brotherhood of current and former SEALs.

"One-point-five million people have bought the book," he said. "Millions more heard Fox TV trash Jesse Ventura because of it. And the story went viral on the Internet and will be there forever."

Defense attorney John Borger had told jurors in his own closing argument that the 11 witnesses presented by the defense "tell a compelling and consistent story" that backed Kyle's version.

U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle, who is not related to the author, told jurors they weren't charged with determining whether Ventura was punched, but rather whether he was defamed by the remarks Kyle attributed to him.

Chris Kyle, regarded as the deadliest military sniper in U.S. history, included a brief account in his book of a confrontation at a bar in Coronado, California, with a man he called "Scruff Face." In promotional interviews, Kyle identified the man as Ventura, a former SEAL who became a pro wrestler and movie actor before being elected for one term as Minnesota governor in 1998. Ventura was in Coronado for a SEAL reunion and graduation ceremony.

Olsen said inconsistencies in testimony from defense witnesses about what happened the night of Oct. 12, 2006, were so serious that their stories couldn't be trusted. He also pointed out that people who were with Ventura that night testified that the alleged confrontation never happened. And he said Ventura would never have said any of the remarks attributed to him because he remains proud of his and his parents' military service.

"The statement is completely out of character for Jesse Ventura. He never said anything like that in his life, and he never will," he said.

Ventura testified that his income as a television personality fell sharply as job offers dried up in the wake of "American Sniper." Borger said Ventura's career as an entertainer was in decline well before that.

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