Updated: 07/28/2014 4:48 PM
Created: 07/17/2014 10:20 PM KSTP.com
By: Cassie Hart
The co-author of "American Sniper" says he didn't think the story about a Navy SEAL punching former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura was very significant. It was an "idiotic bar fight," Jim DeFelice testified in federal court in St. Paul.
DeFelice was called as a defense witness in Ventura's defamation lawsuit trial pitting the former governor against the late Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL who authored the book "American Sniper." In the book, Kyle identifies a "celebrity" former Navy SEAL he says he punched in a San Diego bar after he said SEALs "deserve to lose a few" in Iraq. Kyle later said in interviews the man identified as "Scruff Face" in the book is actually Ventura. Ventura denies the incident happened and says it has damaged his reputation and career.
DeFelice says he interviewed Kyle for more than 100 hours in the process of writing the book. Although Kyle told DeFelice the story about punching Ventura, the two went back and forth on whether to include the story in the book and whether to name Ventura. "It's not a story that made Chris particularly look good," he testified.
Ultimately, the story stayed in, but only with Ventura identified as "Scruff Face." The decision was made after several revisions of the manuscript. DeFelice says it was Kyle's decision to not name Ventura. "Chris didn't want to embarrass anyone who served in the military," according to DeFelice's testimony.
However, Kyle did identify Ventura as "Scruff Face" in a few national radio and television interviews that got a lot of attention on the internet. DeFelice doesn't think that's why the book sold so well. "It's a bar fight for crying out loud, it's not what the book is about," he testified. "Who would buy the book because of a bar fight?"
On cross examination, attorneys for Ventura asked DeFelice if he ever contacted Ventura to get his side of the story. They asked him if he ever checked to see if there was a police report of the incident. The attorneys also asked if he ever found witnesses who saw the punch. He answered no to all those questions. "If a former governor of a state had been knocked out and didn't get back up and police were there, there would be some record of that?" DeFelice was asked. "Absolutely not," he responded.
Defense attorneys also called the book's editor and publicist who work for HarperCollins, the publishing company for "American Sniper." Sharyn Rosenblum, the publicist, says she arranged an interview for Kyle on the "O'Reilly Factor" on FOX News. After he appeared on that show and told the story about Ventura in January 2012, book sales skyrocketed. But Rosenblum doesn't believe the Ventura fight story was a significant factor. "American Sniper hit an enormous nerve in American consciousness," Rosenblum testified.
Ventura's attorneys pointed out that about 5,000 copies of the book had been pre-ordered. In the days after the splash on the "O'Reilly Factor," HarperCollins ordered the printing of another 100,000 copies. Rosenblum testified the boost in sales was mostly due to Bill O'Reilly's endorsement of the book, not the Ventura story in the book. "It seemed like a very insignificant part," she said in court.
According to e-mails presented as evidence in the case by Ventura's attorneys, the book's editor Peter Hubbard wrote that the Ventura story was "priceless," and included a link to a story about Ventura getting punched. Rosenblum responded with an e-mail calling the story "hot, hot, hot."
Hubbard later testified he also didn't think the Ventura story is a significant reason why the book sold so well. He did acknowledge "American Sniper" has sold about 1.5 million copies, making it "by far" the most successful book he's ever worked on.
Ventura's attorneys revealed in court Thursday the legal fees for the Chris Kyle estate are being paid by an insurance company for HarperCollins. Kyle was killed in a shooting at a Texas gun range in 2013. The lawsuit is now against his estate represented by his wife, Taya Kyle.
Also on Thursday, one more former Navy SEAL testified about what happened at McP's bar in San Diego in 2006. John Jones, Jr., of Dallas, Texas, went through SEAL training with Kyle. The night of the alleged incident, Jones saw Ventura at the bar, but he didn't hear first-hand any of the things Ventura was saying. He also didn't see the alleged punch. Jones says he turned in time to see Ventura getting up from the ground.
Five of six Navy SEALS who've testified for the defense say they saw Ventura "getting up" from the ground, but not the punch. Only one claims to have heard Ventura say Seals "deserve to lose a few" and to have seen the punch.
The case could go to the 10-person jury by early next week.