ST. PAUL Minn. (Reuters) - Former Minnesota Governor and ex-professional wrestler Jesse Ventura is a publicity seeker trying to grab headlines by filing a defamation case against the estate of a fellow ex-Navy SEAL who died after serving his country with honor, defense lawyers said on Tuesday.
“Ventura thinks he deserves a pay day anytime someone mentions his name in a book,” John Borger, a lawyer for Chris Kyle’s estate, told the jury in closing arguments made at a federal court in St. Paul, Minnesota. “This case is about ego and denial.”
Lawyers for Ventura said Kyle’s book sullied the ex-governor’s reputation and left his TV career in shambles. They said their client was defamed by a section chronicling a bar fight between the two.
“Jesse Ventura suffered untold humiliation and embarrassment,” his lawyer David Bradley Olsen said in closing arguments.
The book, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” says the bar fight between Kyle and Ventura was sparked by disparaging comments about Navy SEALs. The book does not name Ventura but Kyle later gave an interview in which he attributed the comments to the former politician.
Kyle was killed in 2013 at a Texas shooting range by a troubled Iraq war veteran. Lawyers for his estate said Ventura’s lawsuit was without merit. The jury deliberated for about four hours on Tuesday without reaching a verdict and will reconvene on Wednesday.
Lawyers for the Kyle estate told the court that even before the book was published, Ventura’s income was on the decline due to waning popularity. They said the passage about the bar fight had little impact on demand for Ventura as a media personality. [ID:nL2N0PP11C]The jury is being asked to determine whether Ventura was defamed, whether the statements the book made about him were false and, because Ventura is a public figure, if Kyle made them with actual malice, a higher standard than for ordinary citizens.
In his book, Kyle said he punched a celebrity he identified as “Scruff Face,” who made disparaging remarks about SEALs in a 2006 incident.
Kyle identified “Scruff Face” as Ventura during interviews supporting the book’s release in 2012.
In a videotaped deposition played for jurors, Kyle said he punched Ventura, describing him as loud and belligerent.
Ventura, who rose to prominence as professional wrestler, said he lost out on income from media appearances because of the passage about the bar fight, which he said never took place.
Ventura served as Minnesota’s governor from 1999 until 2003, after running as a third-party candidate.
Reporting by Art Hughes; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Susan Heavey, Jim Loney, Eric Beech and David Gregorio