Jury Awards Jesse Ventura Nearly $2 Million in Defamation Case Against Author

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
July 29 2014 7:05 PM

Jury Awards Jesse Ventura Nearly $2 Million in Defamation Case Against Author

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Jesse Ventura is awarded $1.8 million for defamation.

Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

A jury awarded former Minnesota governor, and pro wrestler, Jesse Ventura $1.8 million for defamation on Tuesday for author Chris Kyle’s portrayal of Ventura in his 2012 book American Sniper. The case revolved around Kyle’s description in the memoir of a 2006 California bar fight with a man referred to in the book as “Scruff Face.” “Kyle, regarded as the deadliest military sniper in U.S. history, 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,’” according to the Associated Press. Kyle died last year after Ventura had filed suit and the former governor continued the case against Kyle’s estate. Here’s how both sides portrayed the night in question via the New York Times:

Mr. Ventura, who served years ago on a Navy underwater demolition team, acknowledged that he was inside the bar – a place frequented by special Navy units like the SEALs - on the night Mr. Kyle described in his book. But Mr. Ventura vehemently denied claims in the book that he had made derogatory statements about fellow members of the military while in the bar, or had said at one point during the evening that the SEALs deserved “to lose a few.”
In his deposition, Mr. Kyle said Mr. Ventura had indeed made such comments, and that Mr. Kyle had ended the conversation by punching Mr. Ventura as he described in the book. Several witnesses for Mr. Kyle said that they had overheard the former governor’s negative comments or had seen him on the ground following an altercation, while witnesses for Mr. Ventura said they saw no such confrontation that night.
Mr. Ventura said his reputation among military members had been harmed and that his income had been affected as entertainment offers dropped off after the release of the book. Jurors were shown a graph of Mr. Ventura and his wife’s gross income, which ranged from more than $3 million some years to less than $200,000 in 2012.
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“Legal experts had said Ventura, a former Navy SEAL, had to clear a high legal bar to win, since as a public figure he had to prove actual malice,” the AP reports. “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.” "One-point-five million people have bought the book," Ventura’s lawyer said in his closing argument. "Millions more heard Fox TV trash Jesse Ventura because of it. And the story went viral on the Internet and will be there forever." The jury agreed, awarding Ventura $500,000 for defamation and $1.3 million for “unjust enrichment” from Kyle’s estate.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.

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