ST. PAUL, Minn. – A lawyer for the estate of "American Sniper" author Chris Kyle asked a jury Tuesday to reject a defamation lawsuit brought by former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura.
Attorney John Borger told jurors that Ventura failed to prove his claim that Kyle made up an account of punching Ventura in a California bar in 2006 after he said Ventura made remarks insulting Navy SEALs. And Borger said Ventura didn't show he suffered financially because of the book.
"Jesse Ventura is either deluding himself or intentionally telling you things that just aren't true," Borger said in his closing argument at the two-week trial. Ventura's team was to give their closing later Tuesday.
Legal experts have said Ventura has to clear a high legal bar to win. As a public figure, he must prove "actual malice." That means not only does he have to prove the account was false, he has to prove that Kyle either knew what he wrote was untrue or that he acted with reckless disregard for the truth.
Kyle, regarded as the deadliest military sniper in U.S. history, included a brief account in his 2012 best-seller of punching a man he called "Scruff Face" after the man said U.S. Navy SEALs "deserve to lose a few." Kyle had been at the bar for a wake for a fellow SEAL who had died in Iraq.
Later, Kyle identified the man as Ventura, a former SEAL who became a pro wrestler and movie actor before being elected for one term as Minnesota governor in 1998. Ventura was in town for a SEAL reunion and graduation ceremony.
Ventura testified that the incident never happened. Kyle, who was slain at a Texas gun range last year, insisted in testimony videotaped before his death that it did.
Borger said the 11 witnesses called by the defense "tell a compelling and consistent story" that backed Kyle's version.
U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle, who is not related to the author, said in his instructions to the jury that they weren't charged with determining whether Ventura was punched, but rather whether he was defamed by the remarks Kyle attributed to him.
Ventura testified that his income as a television personality fell sharply as job offers dried up in the wake of "American Sniper." Borger said Ventura's career as an entertainer was in decline well before that.
"Jesse Ventura's income has declined because his star has faded, not because of Chris Kyle's statements," Borger said. He added: "What really harmed his reputation was bulling through this lawsuit after Chris Kyle's death."
Kyle's widow, Taya Kyle, had become executor of his estate with control over proceeds from book royalties and movie rights that have topped $3 million. Judge Kyle allowed Ventura's lawsuit to proceed against the estate.