Attorneys for former Gov. Jesse Ventura and for the estate of late American Sniper author Chris Kyle both told jurors Tuesday that they will call witnesses who will say the other side is lying as the trial began in Ventura’s defamation suit.
In his autobiography, Kyle, of Midlothian, bragged that in a 2006 bar fight in Coronado, Calif., he decked a man he identified in the autobiography only as “Scruff Face” but who he later said was Ventura. Kyle said Ventura was speaking loudly against President George W. Bush, the Iraq war and Navy SEAL tactics. Kyle claimed that Ventura said the SEALS “deserve to lose a few.”
In opening statements in federal court, Ventura’s attorney David Bradley Olsen said that the punch never happened and that Ventura never made disparaging comments about servicemen.
“Jesse Ventura will testify there was no incident, there was no altercation and that Kyle made the whole story up,” Olsen said.
The Kyle estate’s attorney, John Borger, countered that the jury will get the real story from Kyle via testimony videotaped before his death.
Ventura is also a former Navy SEAL and is a professional wrestler. He has hosted several cable TV shows since his single term as Minnesota’s governor ended in 2002 and has said his job offers dried up after Kyle’s book was published and he was worried about being seen as a traitor to the military.
The first witness was Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle, who testified that he left Ventura’s name out of his book because the point wasn’t to call anyone out. She acknowledged she’d heard some concerns as he was writing the book that naming Ventura would risk a libel lawsuit, but she said she didn’t recall who raised them.
Olsen used her testimony mostly as an opportunity to play radio and TV interviews that Chris Kyle gave shortly after the book’s release in 2012 in which he disclosed that “Scruff Face” was Ventura, as well as a recorded conversation with one of his co-authors as they wrote the book.
“I hate him with a passion,” Kyle told co-author Jim DeFelice about Ventura.
Legal experts have said Ventura has to prove that Kyle made up the story and profited from it, or at least acted with reckless disregard for the truth, and that Ventura’s reputation was hurt as a result.
Significant money is at stake. Kyle’s book has made more than $3 million in royalties, and the judge in the case has ruled that profits from an upcoming movie could also be subject to damages.
On Feb. 2, 2013, Kyle, 38, and a friend, Chad Littlefield, 35, both of Midlothian, were fatally shot at a gun range in Glen Rose where they had taken a troubled veteran to try to help him.
The veteran, Eddie Ray Routh, is awaiting trial in Stephenville on a capital murder charge.