The widow of a former Navy SEAL engaged in some testy exchanges with an attorney for Jesse Ventura during the opening day of a trial of a defamation lawsuit filed by the former governor.
Taya Kyle suggested several times that attorney David B. Olsen was misstating the testimony she gave during sworn depositions before the trial.
Ventura’s lawsuit claims that he was defamed in “American Sniper” by Kyle’s late husband, Chris, a former Navy SEAL, and that he slandered Ventura by repeating the false account of a bar fight in Coronado, Calif., in radio and TV interviews, undermining Ventura’s reputation.
A 10-member jury was selected Tuesday morning, followed by opening statements from lawyers for both sides and then Taya Kyle’s testimony later in the day.
Kyle’s attorney, John Borger, objected to several questions she was asked, saying they weren’t relevant.
But U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle, who is unrelated to the defendant, allowed most of them.
In his opening statement, Olsen said the fight never occurred. He said he will produce witnesses who will dispute the fight and the derogatory remarks Chris Kyle attributed to Ventura. In the book, Kyle identified Ventura only as “Scruff Face” but, in subsequent radio and TV interviews, said it was Ventura.
Olsen also said that when Ventura showed up at a Navy SEAL graduation the day after the scuffle he had no bruises and that there was no discussion of any fight among the SEALs who had been at the bar.
Chris Kyle had said in media interviews that he’d been told Ventura got a black eye, but when Olsen asked his widow on Tuesday what she knew about that, she said she could not recall.
“You never saw pictures of Ventura with a black eye?” Olsen asked.
“There are a lot of pictures of Mr. Ventura that I have never seen,” Taya Kyle responded.
6 men, 4 women on jury
Ventura, 62, sued Chris Kyle in 2012. Kyle was killed a year later in an unrelated incident. Ventura continued the suit against Kyle’s estate, which Taya Kyle oversees.
Borger told jurors he would produce numerous witnesses who saw various parts of the incident described in the book and who heard Ventura’s comments that night.
Jurors were shown a brief excerpt of a video deposition by Chris Kyle, and Borger said that Kyle testified in the deposition that he is “absolutely sure” of what he wrote concerning Ventura’s behavior that night.
The trial moved quickly on its first day. Six men and four women were chosen from a jury pool of 26 interviewed by Judge Kyle. They include a mortgage specialist; a psychology student at Minnesota State University, Mankato; a plant manager for 3M Co.; a corn and soybean farmer; a construction superintendent, and two employees of Target Corp. who said they did not know each other.
Ventura, dressed in a dark suit and striped tie, rocked back and forth in his chair as the judge interviewed potential jurors.
He will testify later in the trial, which is expected to last about three weeks.
In his opening remarks, Olsen said that while Ventura was at the bar near San Diego in 2006, “There was no confrontation, and Chris Kyle made this story up.”
SEALs were attending a wake
In his book, Kyle wrote that he was attending a wake for a SEAL who had died in Iraq when Ventura, who was formerly with a demolition team connected to the SEALS, was also at the bar. He wrote that Ventura made derogatory remarks about then-President George Bush and U.S. policy in Iraq and said SEALs “deserved to lose a few.”
When Ventura started to swing at him, Kyle alleged, he punched Ventura and knocked him down, then left the bar.
Olson said he’d show that Kyle had developed multiple versions of the confrontation.
Borger told jurors he will have witnesses who will verify Kyle’s account of the bar fight and testify they heard the “insensitive comments.”
A five-hour video will be shown to jurors on Wednesday of a deposition Chris Kyle gave in connection with the lawsuit.
Ventura, a former pro wrestler who served as governor from 1999 to 2003, repeated Tuesday that he would not discuss the case with the news media until after the trial. But he talked amiably with two reporters when proceedings adjourned about his devotion to the Minnesota Lynx basketball team and his new diet.
He said he has season tickets and was convinced that the Lynx would “right the ship” when forward Rebekkah Brunson, who had knee surgery, gets healthy.
Ventura’s dark suit looked a little baggy, and it appeared he’d shed some pounds.
Asked about it, he said he’s doing 26 miles a week on an elliptical machine. Told that seemed boring, he said he does it while watching “The Price Is Right” TV show “with Drew” Carey or an occasional movie. He said he is on a diet, eating the same food, but drinking only water as opposed to sugary drinks.
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224 Twitter: @randyfurst