US governor Jesse Ventura wins defamation case over bar fight against late author

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 July, 2014, 9:44pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 July, 2014, 10:20pm


A US jury has decided that former wrestler Jesse Ventura was defamed in a best-selling book's description of a bar fight and awarded him US$1.8 million.

Ventura, 63, who was elected governor of Minnesota in 1998, had sued over his portrayal in the book American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in US Military History.

The book's author, Chris Kyle, a former member of the US Navy SEALs, died after the case was filed but Ventura pressed ahead and sued the author's estate. The jury sided with Ventura, concluding that the author knew what he wrote was untrue or that he harboured doubts about its truth.

It awarded him US$500,000 for defamation to his character and US$1.3 million for the author's "unjust enrichment".

But the verdict was not unanimous. After failing to reach a consensus, the jury took a vote, with both legal teams agreeing to accept the outcome. The jurors voted 8-2 in Ventura's favour.

The case revolved around an encounter at a California bar.

Ventura acknowledged he was present at the bar that night, but denied the book's account that he had derided other troops at the bar or said that the SEALs deserved "to lose a few".

The author, Kyle, said he then punched Ventura. Ventura said the punch and the confrontation never happened. Witnesses for both sides gave conflicting accounts of the evening.

Ventura was not named in the book, which referred to a celebrity named "Scruff Face". But Kyle had told reporters after the book was published in 2012 that he was describing Ventura.

After the verdict, Ventura's lawyer, David Olsen, said his client's reputation had been permanently damaged. "Certainly with his generation of young SEALs, we don't know that his reputation can ever be repaired," he was quoted as saying.