A slain military sniper whose memoir sparked a lawsuit from former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura admitted before his death that he removed Ventura's name from the book because he was afraid of being sued, jurors in Ventura's defamation lawsuit heard Wednesday.
Ventura claims "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL who was fatally shot last year at a Texas gun range, invented a story in his best-selling autobiography about decking Ventura outside a California bar in 2006. Kyle had said Ventura made loud disparaging comments about SEALs while Kyle was attending a wake for a fellow SEAL killed in battle.
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Kyle gave a video deposition in November 2012 that jurors saw Wednesday. Near the start, Kyle told Ventura's attorney, David Bradley Olson, that he wasn't concerned about the lawsuit. Asked why, he replied: "You can't defeat the truth."
But later on Kyle, who's regarded as the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history, acknowledged he was indeed afraid of being sued. He said his co-authors, Jim DeFelice and Scott McEwen, included Ventura's name in early drafts of the subchapter on the alleged incident — even calling him Jesse "The Body" Ventura, his name from his pro wrestling days. Kyle said he was acting on the advice of a friend who was a Dallas police officer.
"He said if you put something in the book that's not true you're probably liable," Kyle recalled, even as he insisted everything in the book was accurate to the best of his knowledge.
But he said it took some work to convince them that Ventura's name should come out. The three-page passage ultimately referred to Ventura as "Scruff Face."
Kyle's retelling was consistent with his published version of what happened at the bar near Kyle's base at the time in Coronado, California. He stood by his claim that Ventura told him "you deserve to lose a few (SEALs)," saying in the videotape, "Those are his exact words."
He said he then punched Ventura because he believed Ventura was fixing to hit him.
But Kyle acknowledged he had no direct knowledge of some of the details described in the story, such as an allegation that he gave Ventura a black eye. He said he heard them from witnesses, but he couldn't remember who.
"I was told it. I believed it," he said.
Kyle also said some details his friends told DeFelice — that he knocked out Ventura, threw him across tables or choked him — definitely weren't true. They didn't make it into print, however.
Olson asked Kyle if he was familiar with Ventura before the alleged confrontation. Kyle responded that he'd never met Ventura before, but that he was familiar with Ventura's service as a SEAL and his subsequent career as a wrestler, actor and politician.
"Back then we thought that he was a pretty cool dude," Kyle said.
Ventura, who was Minnesota governor from 1999-2003, pursued his lawsuit even after Kyle was killed in February 2013, saying it was important to clear his name. Ventura, who has hosted several cable TV shows since his single term ended, has said his job offers dried up after the book came out because of the harm to his reputation.
Legal experts have said Ventura must prove that Kyle made up the story, or at least acted with reckless disregard for the truth.
Earlier Wednesday, Kyle's widow, Taya Kyle, testified they never intended to keep the money from the book. A key claim Ventura must prove is that the Kyles profited from a made-up story.
In often tearful testimony, she said they wanted to donate money to other veterans but found themselves limited by gift tax laws that prevented them from donating more than $13,000 each to two families last year. Olson challenged that assertion, suggesting by his questions that they could have given more away and just paid the taxes. The book has earned more than $3 million in royalties.
The judge ruled earlier that any profits from an upcoming movie based on Kyle's book could be subject to damages.
Taya Kyle testified Wednesday that the alleged incident won't be part of the movie, which is being directed by Clint Eastwood. Kyle said she had been told by a screenwriter that there wasn't enough room for it.