SUMMARY: Jesse Ventura Defamation Trial

Updated: 07/28/2014 4:46 PM
Created: 07/22/2014 10:58 AM
By: Megan Stewart

Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura filed suit against Chris Kyle, the author of "American Sniper." The case in now in the hands of a 10-person federal jury.

The case wrapped up with closing arguments Tuesday in St. Paul after two weeks of testimony.


Ventura claims Kyle made up a story in his book about punching Ventura in a San Diego bar in 2006 after alleging Ventura said Navy SEALS "deserve to lose a few" in Iraq. Kyle also alleges Ventura was talking loudly about President Bush getting the United States into an "unjust" war and that the military was "murdering women and children."

Ventura denies saying these things and being punched. 


Ventura is a public figure, so the bar is very high for him to win a defamation case. He has to first prove to a jury he didn't say what Kyle claims and prove he wasn't punched.

In addition, he has to prove Kyle acted with "actual malice," or reckless disregard for the truth, when publishing the allegations.

To win damages in the case, Ventura has to prove Kyle was unjustly enriched by making up a story about him and using the story to promote the book.

Ventura's name isn't actually in the book; he's referred to as "Scruff Face." However, he's identified as a "celebrity" former Navy SEAL who moved to Baja, California. Ventura is the only person in the world who fits that description.  And following the book's release, Kyle identified Ventura as "Scruff Face" in radio and television interviews.


If Ventura Wins...

Ventura proves the story was false and proves Kyle acted with "actual malice." Look for Ventura's attorneys to remind the jury Kyle is quoted on tape saying, "I hate him with a passion," when Kyle's co-author was interviewing him as they were writing the book.

He also proves Kyle was unjustly enriched at least partially because of the "Scruff Face" story and that Ventura now gets fewer job offers because his reputation has been damaged.

The jury awards damages.

If Kyle Wins...

In this case, it's actually the Kyle estate because Kyle was killed in 2013 in a shooting at a Texas gun range.

Kyle's estate wins by convincing the jury Ventura made the inflammatory remarks that led to the punch.

If Both Sides Claim Victory...

It's possible the jury could decide Ventura did not make the inflammatory statements and was not punched. However, they could also find he didn't suffer any significant damage to his reputation or earnings.

The defense spent a significant amount of time showing how Ventura has made many controversial statements over many years that have already damaged his reputation, which could explain why he doesn't get many job offers. The jury could say the Ventura incident didn't happen, and yet award him $1 or some other small amount.

Both sides could claim victory because Ventura would say he cleared his name and Kyle's estate would say it didn't do anything to damage his reputation.


The jury will give their decision.

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