Testimony ends in Jesse Ventura defamation trial; closing arguments Tuesday

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 18, 2014 - 8:44 PM

Attorneys for both sides disagree about instructions to the jury, which will begin deliberations on Tuesday.

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Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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The jury in Gov. Jesse Ventura’s defamation trial will begin deliberating Tuesday on whether the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle lied about Ventura in his bestselling memoir “American Sniper” and in subsequent media interviews.

Closing arguments are set for Tuesday morning in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, followed by instructions to the jury by Judge Richard Kyle. The 10-member jury may get the case before lunch break that day.

Attorneys for both sides — David B. Olsen for Ventura and John Borger for the Kyle estate — rested their cases Friday morning at a brief hearing without the jury present.

On Monday the attorneys will meet with Judge Kyle to work out the instructions he will give to the jury. The judge is no relation to Chris Kyle, who was killed in 2013 by a veteran he was mentoring.

After Kyle’s death, Ventura continued his lawsuit against Taya Kyle, Kyle’s widow, contending that her husband never retracted the statements in the book nor removed the disputed chapter from later editions, including a memorial edition of the book.

Ventura argues that a subchapter titled “Punching Out Scruff Face” is a fabrication. While the book doesn’t name him, Kyle said in interviews that “Scruff Face” was Ventura.

Kyle wrote that he punched a celebrity in a California bar after the man offended Navy SEALs and family members attending a wake for a SEAL who died in Iraq by throwing himself on a grenade to save fellow SEALs. Kyle wrote that “Scruff Face” upset people at the wake by asserting that the United States was wrong to have gone to war in Iraq and that SEALs “deserve to lose a few.” The alleged incident occurred on Oct. 12, 2006.

What to tell jury?

At Friday’s hearing, Borger and Olsen sparred over some basic elements of the jury instructions.

Borger argued that in deciding whether Chris Kyle defamed Ventura, the jury should have to decide the accuracy only of some specific statements in “American Sniper” that constitute the defamation allegations, rather than the whole subchapter.

One was Ventura’s alleged statement that SEALs “deserve to lose a few,” which was repeatedly brought up at trial, and which he found particularly damaging to his reputation.

Borger said that to have the whole subchapter considered by jurors would confuse them and make it difficult to resolve by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals if the verdict is appealed.

Olsen said the jurors should consider the whole subchapter, noting that U.S. District Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan had already ruled against Borger on that question in September 2012. The suit was filed in February of that year.

In a memorandum to Boylan, attorneys for Ventura had urged that the whole subchapter be considered so that context could be understood in deciding whether defamation occurred. They cited such statements as Kyle’s claim that Ventura said the United States was “killing” and “murdering” men, women and children, upsetting people who were in mourning, and that he brushed off a SEAL veteran who was injured in Iraq and who had wanted to meet him.

Judge Kyle said Friday that he leaned toward Olsen’s position that the jury consider the whole subchapter, but said he will rule on the matter later.

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224 Twitter: @randyfurst

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