With jurors intently taking notes Monday, Jesse Ventura squared off against attorneys for the widow of a murdered SEAL.
The former governor of Minnesota contended that his reputation had been “destroyed” by fabrications in a book by the late Chris Kyle, choking off lucrative job offers in the entertainment industry, while defense attorneys in the federal defamation trial introduced evidence to suggest Ventura had ruined his own credibility with inflammatory statements over the past decade.
On the stand for a second day, Ventura claimed Monday that Kyle had accused him of “treason” by falsely alleging in his memoir, “American Sniper,” that Ventura declared that Navy SEALs “deserved to lose a few.”
Kyle wrote that the statement provoked him to punch a celebrity he called “Scruff Face,” whom he later identified as Ventura, at a California bar. Ventura denied again Monday that there was such an altercation.
The defense’s first witness, Laura deShazo, said she met Ventura in the crowded bar on Oct. 12, 2006, and had her picture taken. It was shown to the jury. She then saw him involved in a “scuffle” with a man she did not recognize, adding, “I saw Mr. Ventura get hit. I believe it was a punch.”
Asked by attorney Leita Walker how confident she was that it was Ventura who was punched, DeShazo replied, “Confident.”
She said she had gone to the bar to attend the wake of a SEAL and friend of the family who was killed in Iraq. She said her brother was a Navy SEAL and Kyle’s friend. She said she is a curriculum director of the Utah State Office of Education.
Her testimony that she saw a fight is at odds with two former SEALs and friends of Ventura’s who testified last week that they saw no fight, and the wife of one of the friends, who said she sat near Ventura the entire night and saw no fight.
Attempting to show jurors that Ventura is capable of saying almost anything, Chuck Webber, one of widow Taya Kyle’s attorneys, played an audio tape and showed a photo of Ventura giving a statement to a St. Paul news conference in 2011, calling the United States “fascist,” and announcing that he and his wife, Terry, would apply for Mexican citizenship.
“I will never stand for a national anthem again,” Ventura is heard saying. “I will turn my back and I will raise a fist.”
The tape captured Ventura responding to Judge Susan Nelson, who threw out his suit against full-body scanners filed against the Transportation Security Administration.
Jurors appeared to be entranced by Ventura’s remarks, and several were taking furious notes.
Ventura attorney David Olsen sought to put his remarks in context, eliciting from Ventura that the news conference was being filmed for “Conspiracy Theory,” a TV program Ventura hosted. Ventura said his remarks were “preplanned ahead of time.”
Kyle’s memoir, “American Sniper,” was published in January 2012, and Ventura, who lives in the winter in Baja in Mexico, said he was alerted to the book by his son, Tyrel. Without telephone service, Ventura said, he felt “trapped” and unable to defend himself.
He said he’d never say SEALs “deserve to lose a few,” noting that he had a sign on the fence at his Dellwood home that says, “Support our troops.” He said he blames the government, not U.S. soldiers, for getting involved in wars he disapproves of, such as the Iraq war.
He said that after the book was published, SEALs became hostile and he no longer attends SEAL reunions.
Ventura cited a petition, signed by SEALs, urging he be drummed out of an association of underwater demolition team veterans. But on cross examination he acknowledged the petition states that the reason is that he continued the suit against Taya Kyle after Kyle was killed by a former soldier he was mentoring.
Ventura testified that his career “came to screeching halt” after Kyle told the media that the SEALs-disparaging celebrity he called “Scruff Face” in the book was Ventura.
He said his TV show was canceled after three seasons, although the defense argued that Ventura had no hard evidence that Kyle’s book was the reason.
Webber said Ventura’s federal tax returns over the past decade showed his income climbed to $3,794,710 in 2003, falling off to $697,455 in 2011 and then to $190,378 to 2012. Ventura blamed it on the book, and Webber on the fact the former governor lives part-time in Mexico and is available for work only part of the year.
Touching on a controversy that has been around for years, Webber played a video of the deposition Ventura gave in which he was asked by defense attorney John Borger if he had ever seen combat. “I don’t answer that,” said Ventura, and added, “It’s none of your business.”