Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura makes his way back into Warren E. Burger Federal Building July 8 during the first day of jury selection in a defamation lawsuit in St. Paul, Minn. (Jim Mone / AP)
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ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA — A woman testified Monday that she saw someone punch Jesse Ventura in 2006 at a California bar, contradicting the former Minnesota governor’s assertions that the incident described in a slain military sniper’s autobiography never happened.
Laura deShazo of Salt Lake City was called as the first defense witness in Ventura’s defamation case against the estate of Chris Kyle, who is regarded as the deadliest military sniper in U.S. history.
Kyle wrote in his best-selling book, “American Sniper,” that he punched a man he called “Scruff Face” that night who loudly said the Navy SEALs “deserve to lose a few” while a large group of SEALs and family members were there for a wake for a fallen comrade. Kyle later identified the man as Ventura, a former SEAL.
DeShazo was there for the wake because her brother was on the same SEAL team. While there, she, her sister and her brother’s girlfriend posed for a picture with Ventura, which was shown in court and showed him sporting a braided goatee. DeShazo said she later saw Ventura get into a “scruffle with a group of people” and saw a man punch Ventura. She said she doesn’t know who threw the punch and didn’t know Kyle, but she gave a description that was consistent with him.
But deShazo’s testimony conflicted with a sworn video deposition Kyle gave before he was slain in Texas last year. DeShazo said she was “positive” the confrontation happened on the patio at the pub. Kyle said it happened out on the sidewalk. She said she didn’t see what else happened and didn’t see Ventura go down as Kyle claimed.
“It was a time of mourning for us. A bar fight was not a priority for me,” she said.
DeShazo’s statements led off what is expected to be a week of testimony from people who told attorneys they saw small pieces of the alleged incident but not the entire thing. The defense last week said the pieces will add up to a whole that vindicates Kyle, while Ventura’s lawyer said the accounts are riddled with inconsistencies that make them unreliable.
Ventura testified again Monday that there was no fight and that Kyle fabricated the story.
In his second day on the stand, Ventura, a former pro wrestler who now makes his living mostly off TV shows, said he blames the book for a 90 percent drop in his earnings since it came out in January 2012. He said job offers have dried up as a result.
Ventura said he earned close to $11 million from 2002-2012. The defense introduced income tax returns showing his income was in decline over the period. He enjoyed a high of $3.8 million in 2003, while under contract to MSNBC. He made $676,455 in 2011, before the book came out, during the last season of his truTV series “Conspiracy Theory.”
Ventura made $190,378 in 2012 and said he thinks truTV canceled the series because of the controversy over Kyle’s book. But he acknowledged he can’t prove it.
But Kyle estate attorney Chuck Webber suggested the falloff was Ventura’s own fault because of what Webber called his propensity for making outrageous and offensive statements on TV and in his own books.
Besides the financial hit, Ventura said Kyle’s story hurt his reputation within the tight-knit SEAL community. He said he no longer feels welcome at reunions.
“It’s a hole in my heart,” he testified.
Ventura and Kyle were at the pub near a SEAL base in Coronado on Oct. 12, 2006. Ventura was in town for a SEAL reunion, while Kyle was there for the wake for Michael Monsour, who threw himself on a grenade. Kyle said in his deposition that Ventura was being offensive and that he thought Ventura was about to hit him, so he decked him first.
The second defense witness was Debbie Lee, of Surprise, Arizona. Lee, whose son, Marc Lee, was on the same SEAL team as Monsour and Kyle, said Ventura went off on what she called a disrespectful rant about the Iraq War when someone from the wake introduced him to her and told Ventura of her own son’s death in Iraq.