One saw him take a punch. Another said he saw him on the sidewalk outside a bar. Another saw him leave with blood on his lips.
Witness by witness, defense attorneys on Tuesday continued to assemble a scenario that they hope will disprove Jesse Ventura’s claim that Chris Kyle fabricated a story about punching out the former Minnesota governor at a bar in 2006.
Ventura is suing Kyle’s estate and widow, Taya, claiming that the late author’s account of a confrontation in the 2012 memoir “American Sniper” damaged Ventura’s reputation.
Tuesday’s witnesses at Ventura’s defamation trial in U.S. District Court in St. Paul stitched together the scene at McP’s Irish Pub in Coronado, Calif., on Oct. 12, 2006, where a group of Navy SEALs were attending a wake for Michael Monsoor at the same time Ventura was attending a gathering of Navy underwater demolition team members.
Rosemary deShazo, a friend of Chris Kyle’s who attended the wake, testified that she heard Ventura make a disparaging remark about U.S. Navy SEALs similar to the one Kyle described in “American Sniper.”
“He said, ‘They probably deserved it, they die all the time,’ ” she testified.
Under cross-examination DeShazo conceded that she was paraphrasing Ventura. But when asked by Kyle attorney Leita Walker how confident she was about the quote, she responded, “quite confident, very confident.”
DeShazo is a sister of Laura deShazo, who testified Monday that she saw Ventura punched in the bar.
Rosemary deShazo said she did not see a punch, but recalled Ventura’s remarks because of the context. “Unusual things that are emotional stick in your memory. I remember he offended me, offended people I was with.”
Also present was Debbie Lee, who started an organization called America’s Mighty Warriors after her son Marc Lee, 28, in 2006 became the first Navy SEAL killed in Iraq.
Lee, who said she was a close friend of Chris Kyle, testified that Ventura expressed no sympathy to her about Monsoor’s death or the death of her son weeks earlier. She said he only wanted to talk about himself.
‘Lost all respect’
“I lost all respect for the man,” she testified.
Lee said she heard Ventura say that Americans don’t belong in Iraq and that President George W. Bush got involved in an unjust war. She said she did not see any physical altercation, but saw Kyle approach Ventura to discourage him from making offensive remarks.
She also said Kyle told her at breakfast the next morning that he had punched Ventura.
Lee also said the Kyles had personally given her $26,000. Taya Kyle testified last week that the money is part of an effort to disperse income from her late husband’s book to veterans’ causes.
John Kelly III, dressed in full U.S. Navy SEAL uniform, testified next and said that he saw Ventura lying on his back on a sidewalk outside McP’s moments after Ventura faced off with Kyle.
Kelly, a special operator 1st class SEAL, said that he had seen Kyle facing Ventura moments earlier, but did not see Kyle punch Ventura.
Kelly admitted he had been drinking heavily, having had 15 to 20 drinks, but that he was certain he had seen Ventura on the ground and that it appeared he had been knocked down.
He said he did not see Ventura get up.
‘He was cool’
Kelly said that earlier in the evening, he had shaken hands with Ventura and told him he’d seen him in the movies. “He was cool,” Kelly said. “He was very engaging, talking about the movies. You’re meeting one of your idols growing up.”
But after about 10 minutes of conversation with Kelly and others on the bar’s patio, Kelly said, the discussion “started getting more political.”
He said Ventura began “bad-mouthing the war” and said that the United States shouldn’t be in Iraq, “killing women and children.”
Kelly started to walk away because he didn’t want to lose his temper, he said. He said it was inappropriate for Ventura to be making such remarks at a wake. “You don’t go to a guy’s wake and bad-mouth,” he said.
Walker, the attorney, asked Kelly for his opinion of Ventura today.
“Worse,” said Kelly. “He’s suing a widow and two babies.”
Under cross-examination by Ventura attorney David B. Olsen, Kelly described how the SEALs went from McP’s to a second bar nearby, where Kyle told him that he had knocked Ventura down.
He said word of the incident began to spread in the bar. He described the SEALs as a “sewing circle” in which members gossip but in a masculine way.
Kelly’s description of the incident was at odds with the testimony of Laura deShazo, who said she saw a man punch Ventura in the patio area, not on the sidewalk where Kelly said it occurred.
The trial’s sixth day ended with two video depositions taken from other witnesses.
Former SEAL Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Paul said he saw a commotion, then saw Ventura get up from the patio floor and yell that he was going to kill Chris Kyle.
Afterward, Paul said, “Chris told me, ‘Jesse was running his mouth and I punched him.’ ”
Earlier that night, Paul said, he saw Ventura surrounded by people on the patio and he walked up to listen. “He was going on about the war in Iraq, the Bush administration. He was very opinionated.”
He called it “a radical, political, ideological rant” that included a comment that President Bush knew that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were going to happen. “It was very bizarre.”
Paul said it was the first time he’d seen Ventura in person and that prior to that evening he had liked Ventura’s “maverick approach” to politics. But he said he thought it was disrespectful for Ventura to say the war was a waste when there were people present who recently returned from Iraq.
Paul said that as Ventura got back to his feet, a man next to him began dusting Ventura off and advised him to “let it go.” He said Ventura left right after it happened.
On cross examination, he said he saw a small amount of blood on Ventura’s lips.
A second video deposition was played of Bobby Gassoff, another former SEAL, who said he saw a commotion in the bar and was told later that night that Kyle had hit Ventura.
More video will be played Wednesday and some eyewitnesses are expected to take the stand.
Ventura turned 63 on Tuesday. A reporter asked him how he liked spending his birthday in a courtroom. “Even sadder,” he replied, “my 39th wedding anniversary is Friday [and] I’ll be here.”