Aug. 3: Juror describes how jury reached split decision in Jesse Ventura defamation trial

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 4, 2014 - 4:56 PM

Key defense evidence may have shifted opinions the other way.

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Jurors agonized long, but with civility, before awarding Jesse Ventura $1.8 million in damages after a three-week trial, according to one of the 10 people who was a member of the panel.

Photo: RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER • reneejones@startribune.com,

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Many of the jurors in the Jesse Ventura defamation case had not made up their minds when they entered the jury room. But within days they had formed two blocs, and by the fifth day they were unmovable, one juror told the Star Tribune.

“When we sent [the judge] the first note saying we were deadlocked, we weren’t happy with the option,” the juror said. “At that point no one was going to change their opinion.”

In the end, most did not believe the story that Ventura had been punched out in a Coronado, Calif., bar after making disparaging remarks about the United States and Navy SEALs, said the juror, who voted with the majority.

The juror, who asked not to be identified, recounted the events that led to the 8-2 vote to award $1.8 million to the former Minnesota governor. The decision confounded some legal observers who predicted that the former governor would most likely fail to convince a jury, because of high standards set by the U.S. Supreme Court in defamation cases.

Ironically, some of the most powerful evidence that the attorneys for author Chris Kyle’s estate presented may have backfired.

The three-week trial revolved around three pages in the bestseller, “American Sniper,” in which the author, the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, claimed he decked a man, later identified as Ventura, in a bar after he some incendiary remarks at a wake for a SEAL killed in Iraq.

Digesting testimony

After being sent off to deliberate the afternoon of July 22, jurors studied U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle’s instructions and reviewed the testimony, depositions and other documents.

“It took me a couple of days to digest,” the juror said in an interview on Friday. “I remember a lot of people not leaning either way, going through the notes. … A lot were undecided.”

As divisions developed, the juror offered some insights into how the majority of jurors evaluated the evidence.

“There were so many different accounts [of where the alleged fight occurred] when alcohol was involved,” said the juror, who was interviewed on the condition that the juror's name not be published. “The testimony was all over the place.”

While uncomfortable summarizing the views of the two holdouts, the juror said the pair felt that Kyle did not know he was defaming Ventura in the sub-chapter about the fight. “They believed the story [in the book],” the juror said, “given Jesse’s background and Kyle’s. It was everything, from [Ventura’s] conspiracy [theories] to his [Ventura’s] books, to his character.”

The juror said that one of the most persuasive arguments in Ventura’s favor was a visual presentation, a checklist, offered by the Kyle defense — showing what its 11 witnesses had seen or heard on Oct. 12, 2006, at McP’s Irish Pub.

The purpose of the graphic was to show that all of their witnesses had seen or heard something that night, thus solidifying the claim that Kyle’s account was truthful.

It had the opposite affect on the juror. “It was confusing that no one could see all the events,” the juror said. “It was hard to see that no one saw everything.” Someone saw him punched, some saw him on the ground, but didn’t see him punched, and others saw him getting up he said.

“I don’t believe Chris Kyle was 100 percent lying,” said the juror. But the juror said Kyle “may have had to live up to the expectations of his buddies” in relaying the story of the fight.”

That is why, the juror thinks, Kyle titled the sub chapter “Punching out Scruff Face” and did not use Ventura’s name in the book, preferring to keep it “under wraps.”

“If it was true, I thought he would have used his name,” the juror said. Kyle later said in media interviews that Scruff Face was Ventura.

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