That was the margin both sides agreed to and shortly after 1:15 p.m., the jury reassembled in the seventh-floor courtroom in downtown St. Paul, and the judge announced the verdict.
Five men and three women voted for Ventura, while one man and one woman, who appeared to be the forewoman, voted that Ventura had not been defamed. Jurors left through a back exit and made no public statements.
Asked if agreeing to a split verdict was a mistake, John Borger, attorney for the Kyle estate, told reporters, “That was a strategic call that seemed appropriate at the time.”
Neither Ventura or Taya Kyle, who was the executor of her late husband’s estate, was in the courtroom when the verdict was read. Taya Kyle left the state last week to be with her children.
Borger said that he had called Taya Kyle after the verdict, “She was very surprised and very upset,” he said.
Ventura said he was out golfing at the time of the verdict. Judge Kyle had said at the outset of deliberations that whenever he learned of a verdict, he would convene his courtroom 10 minutes later. It kept attorneys and reporters close by. Ventura evidently decided he did not want to be so tethered for so long.
In his memoir, Chris Kyle claimed in 2006 he punched “Scruff Face” in McP’s Irish Pub, a Coronado, Calif., bar where a wake for a Navy SEAL was in progress. He wrote that Scruff Face said he hated America, thought the United States was murdering women and children in Iraq, and that the SEALs “deserve to lose a few” in the war. In subsequent interviews on radio and television, Kyle identified Scruff Face as Ventura.
Ventura on the stand
Ventura took the stand to say the account was fabricated, and the jury majority appears to have agreed, accepting the former governor’s statement that he was not punched and did not make the statements. To prove his loyalty to the SEALs, he hauled what he said were more than 100 SEAL T-shirts that he owns into the courtroom and offered to open his dress shirt on the stand so jurors could see a SEAL tattoo on his chest. The judge told him not to show it.
After the session, he unbuttoned the shirt and showed the tattoo to reporters.
Kyle was killed in an unrelated incident in 2013, when he was shot by a veteran he was mentoring, but he argued his case through a video deposition taken in 2012 and shown to the jury. The estate’s attorneys put 11 witnesses on the stand to contend they had seen or heard some of the confrontation between Ventura and Kyle.
But Ventura attorneys Olsen and Court Anderson were able to underscore that all of the witnesses had been drinking — with some quite drunk — and gave conflicting accounts as to when Ventura made the remarks and where the fight occurred, in the parking lot, on the patio or on at least two different sidewalks.
Olsen suggested in closing arguments that the witnesses had heard about the fight as rumor, then talked about among themselves, so eventually a myth became a fact over the eight years since the incident.
Nonetheless, the estate’s attorneys still thought they had proved their case at trial.
Borger told reporters: “While we are obviously disappointed with the jury’s verdict in this case, and we do appreciate the time and attention the jurors made to the issues here, we found the testimony by the 11 witnesses to the events at McP’s to be compelling and consistent with Chris Kyle’s account.”
He said that in coming weeks, he and his legal team will decide whether to appeal the verdict.
The jurors deliberated for six days in the case, which began July 8.
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