ST. PAUL Minn. (Reuters) - A Navy SEAL told a court on Tuesday he saw former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura on his back outside a bar in 2006, although he did not see if he had been struck by a former Navy SEAL accused of fabricating an altercation with Ventura.
Navy SEAL John Kelly III told the federal trial he was herding mourners from one bar to another during a wake for a fallen SEAL when he looked back and saw Ventura rocking on the sidewalk or curb.
Later, former SEAL Chris Kyle told Kelly he had punched Ventura saying, “I put him on his ass,” Kelly said.
The trial is about whether Ventura, a former Navy underwater demolition team member, and the late Kyle had the encounter that Kyle described in his book “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.”
In the book, Kyle said he punched a celebrity he identified as “Scruff Face,” who he said made disparaging remarks about SEALs. He identified “Scruff Face” as Ventura during interviews to promote the book.
Ventura sued Kyle in 2012, contending he fabricated the episode and he would never disparage SEALs. Ventura named Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle, defendant as overseer of Kyle’s estate after he was killed in early 2013 by a troubled Iraq war veteran.
Kelly said he spoke with Ventura, an actor and former professional wrestling star, about his movies but distanced himself when the conversation turned political.
Stories about an altercation began circulating that night, Kelly said, describing the SEALs as tight-knit and quick to gossip. He acknowledged during cross examination he may have consumed 15 to 20 drinks.
Andrew Paul, a former SEALs lieutenant commander, said in a videotaped deposition played Tuesday he saw a commotion and Ventura with blood on his lip, but did not see him get hit. Kyle told him the next day he punched Ventura, Paul said.
The mother of Marc Lee, who was killed in 2006, said Tuesday she attended the wake for SEAL Michael Monsoor and met Ventura, who did not acknowledge her son’s death.
“I had no respect for the man. He was very arrogant,” Debbie Lee said, adding that Kyle, who had been with her son when he was killed, told her the next morning he had struck Ventura.
Ventura has testified his income plunged and offers dried up after Kyle’s book was released.
Lawyers for Kyle’s estate suggested in cross examination that Ventura’s income and demand as a media personality were on the decline well before the book’s release.
Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Walsh