In a memoir published Monday, Taya Kyle describes the lawsuit won by Jesse Ventura as “sort of torture,” expresses amazement she lost the case, and said the money the jury awarded Ventura wiped out all the income her estate had made on her late husband’s bestselling book, “American Sniper.”
Her own book, “American Wife,” is mostly about her relationship with her husband, Chris, and the aftermath of his 2013 murder. But in about 2,000 words of the 334-page book, Taya Kyle offers her most extensive comments on last summer’s defamation trial in St. Paul.
The former Minnesota governor successfully sued the Chris Kyle estate over allegations “American Sniper” contains a fabricated chapter about a bar fight in which Chris Kyle punched Ventura. Taya Kyle oversees the estate.
“Tears came to my eyes,” she writes, after learning the jury had awarded Ventura $1.8 million, including $500,000 for defamation and $1.3 million for unjust enrichment, which she said the insurer would not cover.
“Paying off the verdict would take all that we made from the book, and more,” she writes. Her book also cites criticism of her legal team’s handling of the case.
The team was led by John Borger, a Minneapolis attorney who specializes in First Amendment issues, and has also represented the Star Tribune.
Borger declined to comment on Monday.
“Many have suggested that the attorneys could have been more aggressive in countering statements and claims they felt were misleading,” Taya Kyle writes. “Hindsight, of course, is 20/20.”
The verdict has been appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
While the book lists Taya Kyle as the author, it states on the cover that it is written with Jim DeFelice, who also co-authored “American Sniper.”
Ventura’s suit focused on claims in “American Sniper” that a “celebrity” veteran connected with the Navy SEALs, identified in the book as “Scruff Face,” showed up in 2006 at a Coronado, Calif., bar where a wake was in progress for a Navy SEAL killed in Iraq. “Scruff Face,” the book said, made disparaging remarks about the Iraq war, President George W. Bush and said the SEALs deserved “to lose a few.” Unable to quiet “Scruff Face,” Chris Kyle claimed he punched him and knocked him down.
During national media interviews immediately after the book was released, Kyle said Ventura was “Scruff Face.” Ventura’s lawyers say publicity of the false account rocketed the book to the top of bestseller lists. Taya Kyle‘s attorneys said the Ventura publicity had little effect on sales.
Taya Kyle writes that “a parade of witnesses” testified to “parts of Chris’ version of events” and she was certain the jury would side with her: “The accounts differed slightly, which of course makes sense: No two people ever remember things that happened six years later the same.”
She was “stunned,” she writes, when she learned the jury, on an 8-2 vote, sided with Ventura. “I don’t think I breathed, let alone spoke, for nearly a minute. … Why the jury chose not to believe [her side’s witnesses] or Chris — I can only shake my head.”
She wondered if the verdict would have been different if the trial were not in St. Paul “where Ventura’s portrait hangs in the State Capitol.”
David B. Olsen, Ventura’s lead attorney, heard excerpts from the book on Monday.
“It sounds like her lawyers wrote the passages that are in the book because they are the same arguments that were made to the judge and to the jury,” said Olsen. “The jury didn’t believe them as expressed in its verdict, and the judge heard the same arguments on post-trial motions and rejected all of them.”
Olsen also disputed Taya Kyle’s assertion that insurance will not cover the verdict award.
He said evidence at the trial was that the royalties were in the range of $6 million and the book has continued to sell.
“Based on our reading of the [publisher’s] insurance policy, the policy covers all of the award, and if the insurance company is denying coverage she should sue the insurance company,” Olsen said.
Royalties at the time of trial were less than $6 million, her lawyers say.