Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura makes his way back on Tuesday into Warren E. Burger Federal Building during the first day of jury selection in a defamation lawsuit in St. Paul, Minn. (Jim Mone/The Associated Press)
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ST. PAUL, MINN. — A former Navy SEAL testified Wednesday that he saw military sniper Chris Kyle punch former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura in a bar in 2006, providing the most complete account yet backing the version told by Kyle in his best-selling autobiography.
Jeremiah Dinnell testified in federal court as part of Ventura’s defamation lawsuit against the estate of the former SEAL and “American Sniper” author, who was killed in Texas last year.
Dinnell, who served in the SEALs for a decade before leaving last year, said he saw Kyle strike Ventura with his right hand at a California bar after Ventura said the SEALs “deserve to lose a few.” Dinnell said he watched Ventura fall and get up again.
In his 2012 book, Kyle wrote that he punched a man he called “Scruff Face.” Kyle later identified the man as Ventura, who is also a former SEAL.
Ventura says he never said SEALs deserved to die and alleges Kyle never hit him.
Dinnell testified that he served in Iraq twice with Kyle and also served one tour in Afghanistan. He said he was friends with Kyle and his widow, Taya Kyle, and had read about half of “American Sniper” but not the three-page section describing the bar incident.
Dinnell said he had been a pallbearer earlier that day at the funeral for a SEAL killed in battle and had gone to the wake at a bar in Coronado, California, where Ventura was attending a gathering of Navy underwater demolition team members.
Dinnell said he heard Ventura talking to others on the bar patio and he was “loud and boisterous.” He said he heard Ventura “bashing (President) Bush” and saying that, “We didn’t need to be overseas and what we were doing wasn’t right.”
Ventura’s attorney David Bradley Olsen challenged Dinnell’s credibility, pointing out discrepancies in earlier written statements and in a 2012 deposition, the Star Tribune reported. Olsen noted that in 2012, Dinnell never said that Ventura stated that SEALs deserved to die.
Leita Walker, an attorney for Kyle’s widow, had a page of Dinnell’s 151-page deposition displayed on the courtroom screen. The page showed Dinnell’s statement that he heard Ventura say, “with what we are doing overseas, we deserve to lose a few guys.”
Walker asked Dinnell if he had any doubts that Ventura made that statement.
“No,” Dinnell replied. “It is something that sticks with you.”