Conspiracy’s Ventura beats defamation in SEAL book

Jesse Ventura, former professional wrestler and governor of Minnesota prevailed in a suit that claimed that he had been defamed in a best-selling book by Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle who was later murdered.
Tuesday, a jury sided with Mr. Ventura, finding that he had been defamed, calling for an award of more than $1.8 million and offering vindication to the former governor, 63, whose old swagger seemed somewhat diminished during three tense weeks in court here. At times, the proceedings felt less like an examination of a book by a former member of the Navy SEALs than a retrospective of Mr. Ventura’s history of colorful comments, his reputation, his life.
As the verdict came in, Mr. Ventura was at his Minnesota home, his lawyer said, choosing not to appear at the federal courthouse here as he had during the trial. “He wanted me to express his sentiment that there are no real winners in this trial,” David B. Olsen, his lawyer, told a throng of reporters. “He’s certainly grateful to the jury for their verdict, but his reputation with an entire generation of young SEALs may never be repaired and that’s why he says that there’s no winner here.”
Over many years, Mr. Ventura has shown the world almost as many sides. There was Jesse “The Body,” the wrestling persona. Jesse the actor, in the 1987 “Predator” movie, in which he uttered the line, “I ain’t got time to bleed!” And Jesse the blustery governor who pressed for tax cuts but may be better remembered for gleefully deriding reporters as “jackals.”
Along the way, he wrote a stack of books, led an unsuccessful legal challenge to the nation’s airport security procedures and hosted “Conspiracy Theory” on TruTV, all the while mixing serious policy questions with a healthy dollop of showmanship. At various points, Jesse “The Mouth” (another of his monikers) has said he favored legalizing marijuana, would no longer rise for the national anthem, viewed organized religion as a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people, and described the country as “the Fascist States of America.” Lately, he spends part of each year in semiseclusion in Mexico and hosts a digital video show, “Off the Grid.”
The lawsuit seemed to present a new side of Mr. Ventura: a somber man who said he had been wronged and who grew emotional, even choked up, while talking about his early years in a special Navy unit, an underwater demolition team.
In 2012, Mr. Ventura sued Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL member, saying that his book, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” included passages about Mr. Ventura that were false and defamatory. The case thrust Mr. Ventura, long gone from the political scene in Minnesota, back into a swirl of waiting news media, a modest contingent of court watchers curious to see the former governor, and at least one protester who appeared outside the courthouse at one point with an anti-Ventura sign.
Mr. Ventura was not named in the book, but was alluded to in a chapter called “Punching Out Scruff Face,” about a confrontation with a celebrity inside a California bar in 2006. In interviews after the book’s release, Mr. Kyle said he was referring to Mr. Ventura.
In testimony, Mr. Ventura acknowledged that he had been inside the bar, a place that was frequented by special Navy units like the SEALs, but he denied claims that he had said the SEALs deserved “to lose a few,” as Mr. Kyle wrote. Mr. Kyle also wrote that he had punched Mr. Ventura; Mr. Ventura said that never occurred.
Mr. Kyle was fatally shot in Texas last year after Mr. Ventura filed suit, but jurors saw a videotaped deposition from Mr. Kyle, who defended his writings. After Mr. Kyle’s death, Mr. Ventura continued the lawsuit, pursuing Mr. Kyle’s estate, for which his widow, Taya, serves as executor. Mr. Ventura said he never would have gone to court had Mr. Kyle admitted that he had made up the story of the bar fight and just apologized. As it was, Mr. Ventura testified to jurors here, a lawsuit was the only choice, adding, “I was handcuffed.” The jury’s verdict was unusual for not being unanimous. Eight jurors
ultimately said they had agreed to a finding of defamation and “unjust enrichment” by the author’s estate, but two other jurors did not. Such verdicts, though relatively rare, are permitted in federal civil cases.
In the hours before the verdict was announced, lawyers on both sides agreed to accept something short of a unified verdict without knowing which way the jury was leaning. On Monday, the fifth day of deliberation, the jury had sent word to the judge that it did not believe it could agree to a single verdict, so the lawyers began considering the possibility of a less-than-unanimous verdict while facing the likelihood of a deadlock that could have forced a new trial.
“That was a strategic call, which seemed appropriate at the time,” John Borger, a lawyer for Mr. Kyle’s estate, said after the verdict was announced. Mr. Borger said that his team would be evaluating “all of our legal options” in the weeks ahead, and that a portion of the jury’s finding — involving more than $1.3 million for unjust enrichment — requires additional consideration by the judge.
During the trial, Mr. Ventura — still imposing at well over six feet tall and with his trademark bellowing voice, looked smaller in court than he had as governor — slimmer and, at points, even subdued. He spoke of blood-thinning medication he must take, watched charts of his annual income flash on a large screen and described an entertainment career where the offers, he said, suddenly stopped. “It came to a screeching halt,” Mr. Ventura testified, attributing the diminished opportunities to Mr. Kyle’s book, which Clint Eastwood is making into a movie starring Bradley Cooper.
Lawyers for the author’s estate, though, suggested that Mr. Ventura’s popularity had simply faded over time. They also suggested that Mr. Ventura missed the attention that was lavished on him back in 1998 when he stunned the nation as a third-party candidate by beating two well-known, traditional-party candidates to become governor here. He served one term, leaving office in 2003.
Mr. Ventura dismissed the notion that he missed the limelight. Over the years, though, he has flirted with suggestions that he may return to politics, perhaps even in a presidential run.
“I like the idea of waging war on the Democrats and Republicans,” he told Politico in 2013, suggesting Howard Stern as a would-be running mate. Asked whether toying with a presidential bid was not merely the latest brand of publicity stunt for American celebrities, Mr. Ventura separated himself from the rest.
“None of them have won,” he answered, adding: “Jesse Ventura won. Jesse Ventura’s the 38th governor of Minnesota.”

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