Ventura shocks world again as jury grants him $1.8 million in damages for defamation by book, “unjust enrichment.”
Defying predictions of a slew of legal observers, Jesse Ventura won his defamation suit in U.S. District Court in St. Paul on Tuesday, but in his first U.S. interview afterward, he said he had “mixed emotions” about his victory.
“I am overjoyed that my reputation was restored which is what this whole lawsuit is all about,” the former Minnesota governor told the Star Tribune in a face-to-face interview in downtown Minneapolis.
“But the emotion is [about] what’s been taken from me. I can’t go to UDT [Underwater Demolition Team]-SEAL reunions anymore because that was the place I always felt safe, and who will be next to throw me under the bus? I’d have to spend my time looking over my shoulder.”
Ventura, who won a stunning 8-2 verdict from a jury in federal court in St. Paul, had frequently attended the reunions for decades and testified he considered them his brothers.
But since the late Chris Kyle’s bestselling book “American Sniper” was published in 2012, he has become persona non grata for Navy SEALs, according to his own testimony.
After six days of deliberations by a deadlocked jury, U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle, with permission of lawyers from both sides, allowed the jurors to return a split verdict.
Ventura served as governor of Minnesota for one four-year term when he was elected as an independent in a three-way race in 1998, surprising pollsters and pundits.
But many legal experts thought he was over his head when he resisted attempts to settle his defamation suit, which he filed in 2012. The standards for winning a defamation suit are high, and he was considered an underdog.
“He shocked the world in 1998, and he’s shocked the world in 2014,” said Joseph Daly, a professor emeritus at Hamline University law school. “Jesse, basically is a winner.”
The jury awarded a total of $1.845 million against the estate of Chris Kyle: $500,000 in defamation damages and $1.345 million for “unjust enrichment”— or to be specific, $1,345,477.25.
“I was nervous when the jury stayed out,” Ventura. said He said he was “very worried” because he could not understand how anyone could believe he had been punched in the head by Chris Kyle, as Kyle claimed in the book and media interviews.
For one thing, Ventura said, photos showed he had no black eye or bruises, when he had a history of profuse bleeding because he takes a blood thinner.
He also couldn’t believe anyone could think that Kyle could knock him down.
“I am 6 feet 4, I weighed 255 pounds and I’ve wrestled Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, and this guy is going to knock me down with one punch and [leave] no mark on me whatsoever?”
While vindicated, Ventura said, he would have “permanently moved to Mexico” if he lost “because I would have nothing here to live for. If you can’t win in court with the truth, there’s nothing left.” Ventura and his wife, Terry, live about five months of the year in the state of Baja California, Mexico, mostly in the winter.
Judge suggested solution
It was Judge Kyle, who is no relation to the defendant, who proposed to the attorneys the idea of accepting a verdict that was less than unanimous.
Not knowing the divisions inside the jury, David Olsen, Ventura’s attorney, told reporters after the verdict that his legal team was prepared to accept a margin as small as 6 to 4, while attorneys for the Kyle estate opted for 8 to 2.