ST. PAUL Minn. (Reuters) - Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura was awarded more than $1.8 million in damages on Tuesday after a federal jury found he had been defamed in a book by an ex-Navy SEAL who claimed the two were in a bar fight.
In an 8-2 decision, the jury awarded Ventura $1.35 million for unjust enrichment and $500,000 for defamation over the book, written by Chris Kyle, a former Navy SEAL who was killed in 2013 at a Texas shooting range by a troubled Iraq war veteran he was trying to mentor.
Kyle wrote in his best-selling book, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” that he got into a fight with a man who made disparaging remarks about the Navy SEALS.
Kyle later identified the man as Ventura. The jury deliberated for six days before announcing its verdict in a U.S. district court in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Ventura, who first gained national attention as a professional wrestler with a penchant for feathered boas, sued Kyle’s estate for an undisclosed amount, saying his reputation was left in shambles by the passage in a book.
Ventura feels vindicated by having a jury declare that the story about the fight was a lie, his lawyer, David Bradley Olsen, told reporters.
Olsen spoke to Ventura after the verdict and quoted him as saying: “There are no real winners in this trial.”
Lawyers for Ventura had told the court that Ventura’s income averaged about $1 million a year in the decade prior to the release of Kyle’s book but that it dropped about 90 percent after the book came out.
Lawyers for Kyle’s estate contended Ventura’s career was already fading and the defamation case was aimed at keeping his name in the headlines at the expense of an ex-SEAL who served his country with honor.
Attorney John Borger said his side was disappointed by the verdict and would “evaluate all our options” regarding an appeal.
Kyle said in a videotaped deposition played for jurors he punched Ventura, describing him as loud and belligerent. Ventura said he had no recollection of Kyle.
Ventura, a former member of the Naval Special Forces Underwater Demolition/SEAL teams, sued Kyle in 2012, saying the fight never happened.
Ventura was Minnesota’s governor from 1999 to 2003, after running as a third-party candidate.
Reporting by Art Hughes; Writing Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Grant McCool and Tom Brown