MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura got the legal vindication he craved when a jury agreed he had been defamed in slain military sniper Chris Kyle’s autobiography.
Ventura won another victory on Wednesday — a day after the jury voted 8-2 to award him more than $1.8 million — when “American Sniper” publisher HarperCollins told The Associated Press it would remove the passage that sparked the lawsuit from the best-seller.
But given the rhetoric surrounding the verdict, the former Navy SEAL and ex-pro wrestler still faces battles over his reputation and the money he’s owed.
Ventura came under heavy scrutiny within the tight-knit brotherhood of Navy SEALs and former SEALs for continuing his lawsuit after Kyle was killed at a Texas gun range last year.
A former SEAL regarded as the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history, Kyle wrote that he decked Ventura at a California bar in 2006 after Ventura made offensive comments about SEALs, including that the SEALs “deserve to lose a few” in Iraq. The subchapter was called “Punching Out Scruff Face.” Ventura testified he never made the statements and that the confrontation never happened.
Kyle insisted in sworn testimony videotaped before he was killed at a Texas gun range last year that his story was accurate. The jury disagreed Tuesday, giving Ventura a potentially hefty windfall if it stands.
Ventura doesn’t expect to see a lot of the money, he said in interviews published or aired Wednesday. He also echoed what his camp had said Tuesday — that Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle, won’t be the one paying the damages.
Ventura lawyer David Bradley Olsen told reporters his reading of HarperCollins’ insurance policy is that its carrier will cover all damages and costs of defending against the lawsuit.
“This money does not come out of a widow’s pocket; it comes from an insurance company,” Olsen said.
Ventura reiterated that on “CBS This Morning.”
“Taya Kyle had all of her attorney fees paid by insurance. I did not. I incurred two and a half years of lawyer fees that I have to pay to clear my name, and she had insurance paying everything for her,” he said.
But attorney John Borger, who represented Kyle in her capacity as executor of Chris Kyle’s estate, said Tuesday that insurance won’t cover everything. He said it will cover the $500,000 awarded for defamation, but not the $1.3 million for unjust enrichment.
“All of that comes directly from money that Taya and Chris received from royalties or whatever assets the estate may have,” he said.
Borger also asserted that under the law, the $1.3 million part of the jury’s award is only advisory and the final determination will be up to U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle, no relation to the author. He also said they will be considering all their legal options “in the days and week to come,” including a possible appeal.
A woman who answered Ventura’s phone Wednesday said he was not available for comment. But Ventura told the Star Tribune he was paying his lawyers by the hour, not with a contingency fee. Neither he nor Olsen would say how high his legal bills will be.
“If I had lost, it would have been devastating financially for me,” Ventura said.
How devastating isn’t entirely clear. Ventura splits his time between his home in suburban St. Paul and a remote “off the grid” winter home in Baja California, Mexico. He testified he made about $11 million between 2002 and 2012, but his tax forms showed his income declining from a high of $3.8 million in 2003 to $190,378 in 2012.
Ventura has long said his lawsuit wasn’t about money anyway, it was about trying to restore his reputation. He told the Star Tribune that he’s pleased with the decision, but wonders who will be next to throw him “under the bus.”
Ventura testified that since “American Sniper” was published in 2012, he no longer feels welcome at Navy SEALs reunions.
Olsen, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday, said Tuesday that the testimony of 11 SEAL community members called by the defense was hard for Ventura to hear.
“Because he did have to listen to these young SEALs say all of these terrible things about him, and there’s probably a lot more people like them out there in the SEAL community,” Olsen said.