ST. PAUL, Minn. - After two weeks of testimony and nearly six full days of deliberations and a near-deadlock, a federal jury has sided with former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura in the defamation lawsuit he filed against the estate of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle.
Jurors awarded Ventura $500,000 for defamation and $1.3 million for "unjust enrichment." They decided that Kyle did not invade Ventura's privacy through appropriation of his image.
The verdict was 8-2, with the jury foreman being one of the two that sided with the Kyle estate. In most cases a unanimous verdict is required, but attorneys on both sides agreed that an eight-juror majority would decide the case in order to break a stalemate.
Neither Jesse Ventura or Chris Kyle's widow Taya was in court for the reading of the verdict. Ventura's lead attorney David Olsen met with reporters outside the courthouse after speaking with his client. He said Mr. Ventura wanted to make clear he feels there are no winners in this case. He says despite the $1.8 million award, his reputation with an entire generation of young Navy SEALS can never be prepared. He did thank jurors for their decision.
When asked about Ventura's refusal to drop the lawsuit after Kyle was murdered in 2013, Olsen said his client wasn't suing a widow, he was suing an estate, and maintained that an insurance company will be paying both legal costs and damages for the Kyle estate. He also said Ventura's main goal was to get a verdict that proved Kyle's story was a lie, which he achieved.
The decision comes just one day after the jury sent Judge Richard Kyle a note telling him they were deadlocked and unlikely to reach a unanimous verdict. Kyle urged them to regroup and give it one more try. After continuing deliberations Monday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon the 10-person jury rendered a decision.
Jurors spent two weeks listening to a parade of witnesses, both live and on videotape, describe the events that took place on a sidewalk outside a California bar on October 12, 2006. Chris Kyle wrote in his book that he punched and knocked down a man for making disparaging comments about the war in Iraq. In the book that man was called "Scruff Face," but Kyle later said in interviews that the man he punched was Jesse Ventura.
Ventura vehemently denied the story, and sued Kyle for destroying his reputation and damaging his ability to make a living. No exact figures were mentioned during the trial but it was reported that Ventura was seeking millions in damages.
A parade of witnesses called by attorneys for the Kyle estate testified that Ventura was rude and demeaning that evening, and one even described seeing Kyle punch Ventura and knock him down onto the sidewalk. Ventura's attorneys attempted to poke holes in that testimony, pointing to inconsistencies in stories and the passage of time.
Kyle was murdered in 2013 by a former marine he was trying to mentor, but Ventura did not drop the lawsuit, instead targeting Kyle's widow.