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Jury breaks for weekend without verdict in Ventura defamation case

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Jurors broke for the weekend Friday without returning a verdict in the defamation suit by Jesse Ventura, leaving legal observers wondering whether they are struggling over some element in the instructions, debating the size of damages to be paid to the former governor or deadlocked over the basic facts in the case.

The longer deliberations last, some local lawyers speculate, the greater the likelihood that Ventura’s version of what happened in Coronado, Calif., bar has gained at least some traction among jurors.

That appears to be Ventura’s view, as well.

“He’s optimistic,” Sam Goldsmith, a friend of Ventura’s, said Friday. Goldsmith, who was waiting out a decision in the seventh-floor lobby of the U.S. courthouse in St. Paul, said he spoke with Ventura Thursday and said the former Minnesota governor has also been told that the longer the jury is out, the better his chances.

John Borger, an attorney for the estate of Chris Kyle, whom Ventura has sued, declined to speculate Friday on what the verdict might be.

The six-man, four-woman jury has now had the case for about 24½ hours since it got it at noon Tuesday.

Ventura sued Chris Kyle in February 2012, seven weeks after Kyle’s memoir, “American Sniper,” was published. The former governor claims he was defamed in three pages of the book, in which Kyle wrote that he punched an ex-SEAL at the bar in 2006 after he made disparaging remarks about the United States, U.S. policy in Iraq and the Navy SEALs. Kyle revealed in his first media interviews that the ex-SEAL was Ventura.

Kyle was killed in 2013 by a veteran he was mentoring, and Ventura continued the suit against Kyle’s estate, claiming his reputation had been ruined in the SEAL community and his career destroyed.

Kyle’s estate is overseen by his widow, Taya Kyle, who lives near Dallas. She testified on behalf of her late husband and sat at the defense table. Borger said Friday that she left Minnesota on Thursday to be with her children.

“Taya Kyle is very much appreciative of the attention that the jurors are giving the case,” he said. “But she misses being with her two children.”

The defense produced witnesses at the trial to bolster its claim that Kyle told the truth and that Ventura’s reputation and career were on the skids before the book was published.

The jury’s thinking is unknown, but Jane Kirtley, an attorney and University of Minnesota journalism professor, said, “I think they either are deadlocking on something or they are having a lot of trouble determining damages.”

Juries can deliberate for weeks. Kirtley said if there was a hung jury, it would be up to Ventura to decide whether to seek a new trial.

But she said his attorneys would have to think hard before seeking a new trial.

If they could not convince a jury at a first trial, Kirtley asked, why would they think they could prevail at a second trial?
 

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