By Todd Melby
ST. PAUL Minn. (Reuters) - A late Navy SEAL accused of defamation by former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura described an alleged altercation between the two men in 2006 in a videotaped deposition played for jurors in a federal trial that began on Tuesday.
The issue of whether that confrontation happened is at the heart of Ventura's case against Chris Kyle, who was killed in 2013 at a Texas shooting range. A troubled Iraq War veteran he was trying to mentor has been charged with his murder. Hours of Kyle's deposition are expected to be played during the trial.
Ventura, himself a former Navy SEAL, contends his reputation was damaged by Kyle's best-selling 2012 book, "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History," and subsequent public statements.
Ventura sued Kyle in 2012, and his lawsuit now names as defendant his widow, Taya Kyle, the executor of Kyle's estate. The lawsuit contends Kyle described an encounter that never happened, causing Ventura, a former professional wrestler and actor, financial losses in addition to harming his reputation. Ventura has not specified the amount of damages he is seeking.
Kyle, a decorated sniper, said in his book and in promotional interviews that Ventura made disparaging remarks about servicemen and that Kyle punched him in the face.
In his book, Kyle described an encounter with a man he identified only as "Scruff Face," who insisted that SEALs serving in Iraq had not suffered enough casualties.
"You deserve to lose a few," Kyle quoted "Scruff Face" as saying. In later media interviews, Kyle said "Scruff Face" was Ventura.
Lawyers for Kyle's widow played excerpts on Tuesday from his taped deposition in which he said Ventura told him during a chance meeting at a California bar in 2006 that America was "killing innocent men, women and children." Asked whether Ventura had said SEALs deserved to die, Kyle replied: "Those are the exact words." Ventura's attorney, David Olsen, said witnesses he planned to present would say there was no fight and that Ventura never said the SEALs deserved "to lose a few."
John Borger, who represents Kyle's widow, said his witnesses would testify that Kyle punched Ventura.
Ventura is also expected to testify during the trial before U.S. District Judge Richard Kyle, who is not related to the defendant. The trial is expected to last about three weeks.
The jury is being asked to determine whether Ventura wasdefamed, whether the statements were false and, because Venturais a public figure, if Kyle made them with actual malice, ahigher standard than for ordinary citizens.
(Editing by David Bailey, Doina Chiacu and Peter Cooney)