Ex-SEAL says he saw Ventura punched

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 17, 2014 - 11:05 AM

Jeremiah Dinnell, a friend of the defendant, said former governor got hit for offensive comments at a wake for a fallen Navy SEAL.

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Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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A former U.S. Navy SEAL on Wednesday gave jurors the most complete account yet of the defense’s version of events at the heart of Jesse Ventura’s defamation suit against Chris Kyle, the late author of “American Sniper.”

Jeremiah Dinnell, a 10-year SEALs veteran until he left last year, said he saw Kyle punch Ventura after the former governor said that “[for] what we are doing overseas, we deserve to lose guys.”

Dinnell stated he was a friend of Kyle and his widow, Taya. He testified he watched Ventura fall and get up again.

Ventura’s lawsuit claims that Kyle never hit him, that he never said that SEALs deserved to die and that his reputation was severely damaged by Kyle’s story.

The trial, in its seventh day in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, could wrap up Friday before it goes to a 10-person jury.

Other witnesses for Kyle’s estate have testified they saw parts of the episode Kyle described in his memoir, but Dinnell’s account appears to cover all the key events at the Coronado, Calif., bar on Oct. 12, 2006. Three witnesses for Ventura previously testified that no fight occurred.

Dinnell said that he served in Iraq twice with Kyle and once in Afghanistan and became a lead sniper with “47 kills.” He said he sent text messages to Taya Kyle after Chris Kyle was killed in 2013.

Dinnell said he’s read about half of “American Sniper,” which he said was an accurate portrayal of what happened in Iraq. He said he did not read a short section describing the bar incident, in which Kyle wrote of punching a man he later identified as Ventura.

Dinnell said he was a pallbearer that day at the funeral of Michael Monsoor, a SEAL killed in Iraq. The mood, he said, was one of “pride in what we were doing overseas.”

Dinnell said he went to the wake for Monsoor at McP’s Irish Pub about 3 or 4 p.m. and had three to four drinks that night. Ventura was at the bar attending a reunion of Navy underwater demolition team members.

Dinnell said he heard Ventura talking loudly on the bar patio, “bashing [President] Bush” and saying, “We didn’t need to be overseas and what we were doing wasn’t right.”

He testified that he went to a nearby bar frequented by SEALs and later walked backed to McP’s. As he was approaching the bar, he heard Ventura make a remark about SEALs deserving to “lose some guys” and then saw Kyle strike Ventura with his right hand.

Under cross-examination, Ventura attorney David B. Olsen repeatedly challenged Dinnell’s credibility, pointing to some discrepancies in an earlier sworn affidavit and a 2012 deposition. He contended Dinnell had not stated that Ventura talked about SEALs deserving to lose a few.

But during her redirect, one of Taya Kyle’s attorneys, Leita Walker, put a page of Dinnell’s deposition on the court screen; it showed Dinnell stated he heard Ventura say, “with what we are doing overseas, we deserve to lose a few guys.”

Walker asked Dinnell if he had any doubts that Ventura made that statement. “No,” Dinnell said. “It’s something that sticks with you.”

Other sights and sounds

Other defense witnesses also testified Wednesday about their interactions with Ventura that night.

Debbie Job, an educational assistant at a school in Washington state, testified that she met Ventura but didn’t recall what he said and did not see a punch thrown. She said she heard secondhand that Ventura made some “very rude” comments, including that SEALs deserve to lose a few.

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