In a video deposition, Chris Kyle, the late Navy SEAL whose estate is being sued by Jesse Ventura, showed some memory lapses Wednesday in describing an alleged bar fight with the former governor chronicled in his bestselling book.
In the first half of a drama-packed day in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Chris Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle, repeatedly broke down in tears on the witness stand as she recalled her late husband’s commitment to protect his fellow soldiers. The 10-member jury was riveted.
But afternoon testimony may have shifted some sympathy to Ventura’s side. In the deposition, videotaped a year before his death, Chris Kyle said he could not remember who told him that Ventura had hit his head when he fell to the sidewalk, could not recall how he learned that Ventura had a black eye, and conceded that tables did not go “flying” during the 2006 confrontation in a bar near San Diego, which he described in his book “American Sniper.”
While calmly stating that the fight had indeed occurred and that he had punched Ventura in the face, Kyle also conceded that Ventura may not have used a vulgarity in describing former President George W. Bush, which Kyle wrote in the book was one of the reasons he struck him.
Kyle did not name Ventura in his book, referring to him only as a celebrity named “Scruff Face,” but after he told Sirius XM Radio and Fox News interviewers that he was referring to the former governor, Ventura sued him in 2012.
Ventura has said he will testify during the trial, which is expected to last three weeks.
“The jury is going to have to decide who they want to believe: Kyle or Ventura,” Jane Kirtley, an attorney and journalism professor at the University of Minnesota, wrote in an e-mail to the Star Tribune.
“Who do they find more credible? Even if they decide to believe Ventura, that alone wouldn’t be sufficient for Ventura to prevail,” wrote Kirtley, director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law. “Ventura would have to prove that Kyle either knew he was writing a falsehood, or that he acted recklessly in writing what he did.”
Or the jury could decide that Kyle acted reasonably and was simply mistaken on some of the details, she said.
Tears on witness stand
During questioning by her attorney, John Borger, Taya Kyle dabbed her eyes with tissues as she recounted the events of the past few years, including her husband’s unrelated 2013 murder at a Texas shooting range.
She wept as she remembered how she talked about her late husband to a screenwriter for Warner Bros., who was gathering more information about him for a Clint Eastwood-directed movie currently in production.
“I tried to tell him about our life, and dating, and marriage,” she said. “I just loved Chris, and I wanted him to be represented well and honestly,” she said. “He was one of the best people I’ve ever known.”
She broke down again as she recounted how her husband was killed — by a fellow veteran he had been trying to help. She also described how she feared for his life when she saw news reports about individuals who had died in a helicopter crash in Iraq during one of his tours there.
“I knew Chris was in gunfights every day,” she said, her voice breaking. She said that he rarely told her about the dangers he faced in the war zone.
“He was absolutely not a liar, but at times he would protect me,” she said. “I was hoping and praying nothing happened to him.”
Also Wednesday, David B. Olsen, an attorney for Ventura, presented detailed documents and copies of checks showing that royalties for the book and associated payments to Chris Kyle, Taya Kyle and his estate from the movie came to several million dollars.
Borger elicited from Taya Kyle that much of that money went to her agent, attorneys and others connected with the book.
She also testified that she and her husband had agreed to donate proceeds from the book to veterans’ causes and had made contributions to two families so far totaling $52,000, but that she was deterred from making more gifts by tax laws.
Borger also argued that Kyle is under constraints because if she gives away too much money now, she might not be able to pay Ventura if she loses the court case.
Olsen suggested in additional questioning of Kyle that she could have created a nonprofit and given away much more money than she has. Kyle said she had not had the time to set up such a nonprofit.
Ventura, dressed in a pinstripe suit, conferred off and on with his three attorneys throughout the day. He has stated he will not discuss the case with the news media until the trial is over.
He also said Wednesday that he would not talk about his current career, which until recently has included his own television shows. He has alleged in court documents that his job prospects in television have been damaged by the bad reputation he has gained from the allegations Kyle made about him in his book.
Ventura was governor from 1999 to 2003, running as a third-party candidate, and has occasionally been talked about as a possible independent candidate for president in 2016. Asked by a reporter about that Wednesday, Ventura said he would not discuss that, either.
As he left the federal courthouse in St. Paul at the conclusion of the day’s trial proceedings, Ventura was greeted by an admirer, Sue Ann Noll, who was in a wheelchair.
“May I shake your hand?” she asked him, stretching out her hand. Ventura shook it warmly. “I’ve got one of your T-shirts,” she told him.