ST PAUL Minn. (Reuters) - Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura said Friday he has not been in a fight in decades as he took the stand in his trial accusing a former Navy SEAL sniper of making up a 2006 altercation between them described in a best-selling book.
At the heart of Ventura’s federal defamation lawsuit against former SEAL Chris Kyle is whether the men tussled outside a bar in 2006, an incident described in three pages of Kyle’s book and in later media interviews supporting its publication.
“I have not been in a fight since I left the Navy,” said Ventura, who left the Navy decades before the night in question.
Kyle, who was killed in 2013 at a Texas shooting range by a troubled Iraq war veteran, said in a videotaped deposition played for jurors on Wednesday that he punched Ventura that night, describing the former governor as loud and belligerent.
“I have no recollection of him whatsoever,” Ventura testified on Friday, adding that he quit drinking in 2002 due to blood thinning medication.
Asked whether he was knocked out at the bar, Ventura replied, “Absolutely not.”
Kyle said in his best-selling book, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” that he punched a celebrity he identified as “Scruff Face” after he made disparaging remarks about SEALs.
He identified “Scruff Face” as Ventura during interviews supporting the book’s release.
Ventura, himself a former member of the Naval Special Forces Underwater Demolition/SEAL teams, sued Kyle in 2012, contending the encounter Kyle described never happened and the account hurt Ventura financially.
After Chris Kyle’s death, Ventura named his wife, Taya Kyle, as defendant in the lawsuit as the overseer of his estate.
“American Sniper” has generated more than $2.5 million in royalties split between Kyle, his agent and co-authors. A movie based on the book is in the works.
Ventura, who served as Minnesota’s governor from 1999 to 2003, wrestled professionally as Jesse “The Body” Ventura and recited for the jury his most famous line as an actor, “I ain’t got time to bleed” from the 1987 movie “Predator.”
The jury is being asked to determine if Kyle’s statements were false and, because Ventura is a public figure, whether Kyle made them with actual malice. His lawsuit does not specify a damage amount.
The trial, which began on Tuesday, is expected to last about three weeks.
Ventura is expected to resume his testimony on Monday.
Reporting by Todd Melby; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Eric Beech