A former U.S. Navy SEAL on Wednesday gave jurors the most complete account yet of the defense’s version of events at the heart of Jesse Ventura’s defamation suit against Chris Kyle, the late author of “American Sniper.”
Jeremiah Dinnell, a 10-year SEALs veteran until he left last year, said he saw Kyle punch Ventura after the former governor said that “[for] what we are doing overseas, we deserve to lose guys.”
Dinnell stated he was a friend of Kyle and his widow, Taya. He testified he watched Ventura fall and get up again.
Ventura’s lawsuit claims that Kyle never hit him, that he never said that SEALs deserved to die and that his reputation was severely damaged by Kyle’s story.
The trial, in its seventh day in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, could wrap up Friday before it goes to a 10-person jury.
Other witnesses for Kyle’s estate have testified they saw parts of the episode Kyle described in his memoir, but Dinnell’s account appears to cover all the key events at the Coronado, Calif., bar on Oct. 12, 2006. Three witnesses for Ventura previously testified that no fight occurred.
Dinnell said that he served in Iraq twice with Kyle and once in Afghanistan and became a lead sniper with “47 kills.” He said he sent text messages to Taya Kyle after Chris Kyle was killed in 2013.
Dinnell said he’s read about half of “American Sniper,” which he said was an accurate portrayal of what happened in Iraq. He said he did not read a short section describing the bar incident, in which Kyle wrote of punching a man he later identified as Ventura.
Dinnell said he was a pallbearer that day at the funeral of Michael Monsoor, a SEAL killed in Iraq. The mood, he said, was one of “pride in what we were doing overseas.”
Dinnell said he went to the wake for Monsoor at McP’s Irish Pub about 3 or 4 p.m. and had three to four drinks that night. Ventura was at the bar attending a reunion of Navy underwater demolition team members.
Dinnell said he heard Ventura talking loudly on the bar patio, “bashing [President] Bush” and saying, “We didn’t need to be overseas and what we were doing wasn’t right.”
He testified that he went to a nearby bar frequented by SEALs and later walked backed to McP’s. As he was approaching the bar, he heard Ventura make a remark about SEALs deserving to “lose some guys” and then saw Kyle strike Ventura with his right hand.
Under cross-examination, Ventura attorney David B. Olsen repeatedly challenged Dinnell’s credibility, pointing to some discrepancies in an earlier sworn affidavit and a 2012 deposition. He contended Dinnell had not stated that Ventura talked about SEALs deserving to lose a few.
But during her redirect, one of Taya Kyle’s attorneys, Leita Walker, put a page of Dinnell’s deposition on the court screen; it showed Dinnell stated he heard Ventura say, “with what we are doing overseas, we deserve to lose a few guys.”
Walker asked Dinnell if he had any doubts that Ventura made that statement. “No,” Dinnell said. “It’s something that sticks with you.”
Other sights and sounds
Other defense witnesses also testified Wednesday about their interactions with Ventura that night.
Debbie Job, an educational assistant at a school in Washington state, testified that she met Ventura but didn’t recall what he said and did not see a punch thrown. She said she heard secondhand that Ventura made some “very rude” comments, including that SEALs deserve to lose a few.
Her son, Navy SEAL Ryan Job, who was blinded during a firefight in Iraq, also was at the bar in 2006, she said. He died during a surgery in 2009.
Former SEAL Guy Budinscak Jr. said he introduced himself to Ventura and asked him to meet Ryan Job, a “wounded warrior.” Budinscak called the conversation “pretty one-sided,” with Ventura talking about himself. He said Ventura said he was living in Mexico, didn’t trust the U.S. government, President Bush had lied and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were an “inside job.”
He did not see Ventura struck and didn’t hear him say the words that allegedly provoked a punch. But he testified that he did see a lot of commotion that looked like a bar fight, then saw people appearing to hold Ventura back or pulling him up. He said it seemed more like they were “lifting him up.” He appeared, however, to put the alleged incident in a different spot than where others claimed the fight occurred.
He said that in 2012, at Kyle’s request, he talked to representatives of “The O’Reilly Factor” TV show on Fox and verified the description of the bar incident in the book.
In an apparent effort to show a motivation for Budinscak’s testimony, Olsen suggested that Budinscak disagreed with Ventura’s political beliefs. Budinscak said he didn’t know Ventura’s political beliefs. “He is on a different planet,” he said.
The final testimony of the day was a 2012 video deposition given by Kevin Lacz, a former SEAL who worked for Kraft International, a business Chris Kyle started. Lacz said he noticed Kyle and Ventura talking on the bar patio, then looked back when he sensed an altercation taking place, and saw Ventura “in the process of getting up” from the floor. He said he assumed that somehow Ventura had gone down.
Ventura motion rejected
Before testimony began Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle rejected an attempt by Ventura’s lawyers to introduce examples of “tall tales” Chris Kyle had allegedly told about his past heroics.
The attorneys allege Chris Kyle lied about other incidents, and thus was capable of lying about the bar incident.
In one example, which has been reported in the media, Chris Kyle allegedly claimed he sat on the Superdome roof in New Orleans during the Hurricane Katrina crisis and shot looters.
Ventura’s attorneys have said he made up the story; Kyle’s lawyers have said there is no admissible evidence that Kyle ever made such statements.
Judge Kyle had rejected a similar motion earlier, but Court Anderson, one of Ventura’s lawyers, said that the defense opened the door to the issue again when Taya Kyle took the stand last week and testified about her late husband’s honesty and truthfulness.