Lessons From The Jesse Ventura Defamation Trial
The recent Jesse Ventura defamation trial illustrates how a few key pieces of evidence can determine the outcome in a jury trial.
In the case, Ventura alleged that former Navy Seal, Chris Kyle, lied about an incident in which he claimed he punched Ventura in his New York Times Bestseller, American Sniper, the Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History. In a chapter entitled “Punching Out Scruff Face,” Kyle wrote that, after exchanging words with Ventura on an evening in 2006, “I laid him out.” During the trial, a number of witnesses offered conflicting testimony about the event. The jury initially could not reach a unanimous decision. After the parties agreed to a less-than-unanimous verdict, however, the jury returned an 8-2 verdict in Ventura’s favor and awarded him $1.8 million in damages.
In an article in the Star Tribune, an unnamed juror described some of the evidence that resulted in the verdict. One of those pieces of evidence was a chart prepared by Kyle’s attorneys, which summarized the testimony of 11 witnesses who each testified that they saw part, but not all, of the alleged altercation. The chart was intended to corroborate Kyle’s account of the altercation, but the juror said that it was hard to believe that no one saw all of the alleged event.
The juror also reported that it was significant that the photos taken of Ventura in the days following the event did not show any bruises on Ventura’s face. The juror explained that Kyle was over 6 feet tall and weighed more than 200 pounds, so a punch from him would likely leave a mark or a bruise.
Finally, the juror reported that it was significant that Kyle did not use Ventura’s real name in the book and, instead, referred to him as “Scruff Face.” The juror thought that if the story was true, there would be no reason not to use Ventura’s real name.
Takeaway: In cases with lots of conflicting evidence, a few pieces of evidence may tip the scales in one direction. To improve the chances of success, it’s important for trial attorneys to present a thorough case with lots of supporting details.