Ten-member jury has asked the judge two questions since defamation deliberations began.
The jury in the Jesse Ventura defamation trial in U.S. District Court in St. Paul completed a second day of deliberations Wednesday without reaching a verdict, raising speculation they may be having some difficulty reaching a consensus.
“If they are out this long, it would indicate they are taking the plaintiff’s [Ventura’s] allegations seriously and weighing the issues carefully, including damages,” said attorney Marshall Tanick, a Twin Cities lawyer who has taught courses on defamation in local law schools.
Ventura’s lawsuit claims that he was defamed by the late Chris Kyle, author of “American Sniper,” who said he punched a man later identified as the former Minnesota governor in 2006 for making inflammatory statements about U.S. Navy SEALs and the war in Iraq. Ventura said Kyle fabricated the account.
The jurors have had the case for about 11½ hours — 4½ on Tuesday and seven on Wednesday, including lunch breaks.
Twice, jurors have sent Judge Richard Kyle questions, which have not been made public.
Joseph Friedberg, a prominent Minneapolis attorney, said Wednesday it’s impossible to draw conclusions about a jury’s mind-set based on the length of deliberations.
“I’ve had a jury out five minutes, and I’ve had a jury out five weeks,” he said. “The jury could be disagreeing about an issue that neither side thinks is important.”
Judge Kyle told the six-man, four-woman jury in his instructions Tuesday that the verdict must be unanimous.
Ventura sued Kyle, who is no relation to the judge, in February 2012, about seven weeks after his book was published. In a three-page subchapter, Kyle claimed he punched Ventura in a bar in Coronado, Calif., after he criticized the U.S. role in Iraq and said SEALs “deserve to lose a few.” Kyle was attending a wake for a SEAL killed in Iraq, and Ventura was at the bar for a reunion of fellow members of a naval underwater demolition team.
A ‘stumbling block?’
Legal experts stated before the trial began that Ventura would likely find it difficult to win a defamation case because of high standards set in previous Supreme Court rulings.
The consensus of some legal observers after closing arguments has been that Ventura remains the underdog in the case, because of the law as well as testimony during the trial.
“I wonder if there is a stumbling block and that they [the jury] just can’t get unanimity,” said Jane Kirtley, an attorney and journalism professor at the University of Minnesota.
She said they could be struggling over a very complicated question of what constitutes defamation and aren’t comfortable yet in making a decision. Or, she suggested, they might be even further along.
“They could be fighting over the amount of damages,” she said.
Generally, Tanick said, if a jury finds for the defense in a defamation case it is a quicker decision, which indicates that the plaintiff has not proven his or her case.
Still, the Ventura jurors have considerable evidence to go through, including video depositions, if they choose to review them.
One of the depositions is a lengthy one from Chris Kyle. He gave it in 2012, the year before he was shot and killed at a firing range by a veteran he was trying to mentor.
Waiting in the courthouse
During the day, the attorneys have been awaiting the verdict in conference rooms at the courthouse. They were called to Judge Kyle’s chambers for an 8:15 a.m. meeting Wednesday to discuss the first question from the jury, and checked back in about 2 p.m. for the second question.
Taya Kyle, Chris Kyle’s widow, has been with the defense attorneys. Ventura did not go into any of the public lobbies Wednesday. Up to nine reporters sat in the seventh-floor lobby of the courthouse, also awaiting the verdict and filing updates on the minutia of the day’s events.
The judge said that about 10 minutes after the jury reaches its verdict, he will reconvene the court to have it read — so reporters and attorneys have not strayed far from the courthouse.
Deliberations will resume Thursday morning.
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224 Twitter: @randyfurst